Fletcher’s Cove, Washington, D.C., April 15, 2017
It was a dreaded shad season ritual. I’m not too fond of it and I’m sure every angler who has wet a line outside Fletcher’s Cove on the Potomac River is not too happy about it either. But it’s got to be done or there won’t be any good fishing for you or your buddies for the day. It’s time to get up at a ridiculous time in the morning to play, “Stand In Line For A Boat.”

As every shad season begins, folks wake up at ungodly hours of the morning to secure one of Fletcher’s coveted rowboats. Sure, you can fish from shore, but good spots to fish from shore are just as scarce as the rowboats. So if you want to have a shot at some great fishing, whether from a boat or from shore, you better be ready to wake up an zero-dark-thirty, haul your sorry, sleepy butt down to Fletcher’s Cove and stand in line to get a boat or secure one of the few good shore fishing areas along the river. But what made this year’s morning event even worse--at this point in the season
there were only 18 boats available for rent.

I got up at 3:30am and was at Fletcher’s a little before 4am. There were already three people in line ahead of me. The first person in line ARRIVED at 3:30am. I was fishing with PaulC, the “Bass Master,” who made it to the Cove by 5:30am. By then, according to the number of heads behind me in the line, nearly all the boats were gone. Before 6am it was confirmed--they were all rented. I was later told that the waiting list had over 100 names on it.

The only sounds we heard as we glided out of the Cove was the low hum of the electric trolling motor and the water as it flowed along the slab sides of the red hulled rowboat. There was a bit of color in the sky but it was still difficult to judge where the main current seam was and we hunted around for a good spot a bit before dropping the rock to begin fishing for shad.

The tide was bottoming out at slack--fishing was going to suck for a while. We caught a few, but it was very slow. But I knew as the tide turned and the water began to move, the bite would pick up. I was right.

PaulC had the stern position and I fished from midship/bow area. Both rods were outfitted with sinking lines and Shad Killer flies. It wasn’t long before the action began. PaulC got one. Then I brought another to the boat. PaulC got a couple more. So did I. PaulC brought one of those baseball pitch count clickers and we pushed the button for each shad we landed. Click. Click. Click. Click. On and on. One shad after another. A Hickory on every cast in some instances. The action would die down as the school moved on but within 15 to 20 minutes the bite would pick up again. As the sun climbed into the sky, the fishing heated up.
The numbers kept going up. It was 20, then 30, then 40. We broke 50 before 10am. Click. Click. Click. Click. On and on. Fish after fish. In all my years of shad fishing I have never experienced this sort of crazy shad catching. Ever.

PaulC had to leave at 2pm. Are you kidding? Yep. Had to go. So we doubled down on our effort. We went over 70. Then 80. This was crazy--90 shad. Click. Click. Click. Click. On and on. Fish after fish.

Finally at 2pm the official count on the clicker was 162 shad. That’s a 1, a 6 and a 2. We stored the gear, pulled the rock and I took PaulC to the dock. I told him I was going to head out again to spend the rest of the day fishing. Hey, when it’s this hot you better take full advantage of it. He wished me luck and headed for home.

As I motored out of the Cove I thought for sure someone was going to immediately grab our fishing spot, so I mentally prepared myself to fish at a couple of fall back spots. However I soon saw that nobody was occupying our morning fishing area. I quickly positioned the boat, dropped the rock and began fishing.

I hooked up on the first cast. And the next cast. And the next cast. And the next cast. On and on. Fish after fish. It was crazy. The shad fishing was on fire. Besides Hickory shad, I also hooked and brought to hand one of the largest American shad I have ever caught on the Potomac River. At first I thought it was a huge carp, but it was an American and it put a serious bend on the rod. I continued to catch mostly Hickories, but I also caught three more Americans but none were as large as that first one.

Soon it was 6pm and time to return the boat. My total haul for the afternoon, after dropping PaulC off, was 67 fish. Add that to the 162 shad in the morning and it’s 229 fish for the day. I believe if PaulC didn’t have to leave at 2pm we would have had a shot at breaking the 300 fish mark. Yep, the shad season is here and it is HOT!

DIRECTIONS: Fletcher's Boat House is located on the Potomac River in Washington, DC, two miles north of Key Bridge and one mile south of Chain Bridge, at the intersection of Reservoir Road and Canal Road. You will know you have reached the entrance to Fletcher's when you see the traffic lights and the Abner Cloud House, an old white stone building, which is next to the canal, and will appear on your left if you approach from Key Bridge, or it will be on your right approaching from Chain Bridge. The Fletcher’s boat rental office usually opens at 7am, but when the shad are biting hot and heavy they open earlier to accommodate anglers. You can get a D.C. fishing license and a boat at the rental kiosk. They also sell basic fishing equipment, bait, lures, hot dogs, candy, chips, drinks and ice cream.

WARNING: The entrance to Fletcher’s Cove is a very narrow ramp that can accommodate only ONE car at a time. There is a stop light and a small pull-off area where a car can wait for the light to turn without blocking incoming access. Use it! It is also very easy to drive past the Abner Cloud House, so be alert. And it is REALLY difficult to negotiate this ramp if you approach Fletcher’s Cove via Chain Bridge because the entry ramp will be facing away from your direction of travel. There is NO RAMP facing Chain Bridge. Park in the upper lot on your left or go through the tiny tunnel (if you have anything on roof racks, I suggest checking the tunnel height BEFORE entering) to the lower parking lot and dock access.

WARNING ON WEEKDAYS: Both lanes of Canal Road become ONE WAY into and out of the District during morning and evening rush hour during the weekdays. If you're hitting Fletcher's in the morning and following the route above you have until 5:30am to get there. If you miss this window you must wait until 10:20am because all traffic on Canal Road is ONE WAY into the city. You must use Canal Road via Chain Bridge in the morning and trying to make the u-turn into Fletcher's during rush hour traffic can really get the blood pounding! Canal Road becomes one way going towards Chain Bridge from 2:30 to 7pm, so you have to hang a sharp U-turn, in rush hour traffic, when you leave if you’re heading towards Chain Bridge.