Potomac River, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2018
The high water that turned the Potomac River outside Fletcher’s Cove into a coffee-colored debris-filled mess—off limits to rowboat rentals—subsided over the past week and from the reports I was getting, the shad fishing was off the charts. Jin was in town on business and could fish on Saturday, so we quickly made plans to meet at the dock at Fletcher’s early so we could head out to get our share of shad.

The morning was beautiful. A bit cooler than the previous days, a bit overcast, but the water was clear and the flow and current was back down to its normal seasonal level. I was first in line but there was a mad rush for the boats. By 6:30am all of them were gone but by then Jin and I were anchored at our usual spot, fly fishing for American or Hickory shad.

It was slow. Really slow. The boats were lined up just outside the main current and everyone was fishing hard, but there was very little catching going on. Jin tied into several Americans and I got a few average size Hickories, but it took a while. I figured every 20 minutes or so, one of us would hook and land a fish. Other than that, it was cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve. Over and over and over again. Besides the unusually slow fishing, one of the stranger things that happened was that Jin caught all American shad and I caught all Hickories.

We tried moving around a bit—fishing other spots we had fished in past years, but with little or no fish to show for the effort. I swear, I must have picked the only boat that had a 40 pound rock anchor because after the 20th drop and set, my arms were killing me and it wasn’t from all the shad I was catching.
We bumped into Stevie, a member of our Montana fishing expedition team who was in town on business, and he wasn’t having much luck either. He managed to get a couple Americans fishing the calmer water just outside Fletcher’s Cove.

With the fishing just about dead, we decided to head back to the dock, grab a hot dog at the tackle shack and call it a day. I spent a few minutes talking to other anglers who also decided to give up and they could not understand why the hot shad fishing had suddenly turned ice cold. One person told me it had been red hot on Friday so he called his brother and told him to bring his daughter down to Fletcher’s EARLY so they could get a boat and have an epic day of fishing. Naturally, the day was a dud. He shrugged his shoulders and stared at the ground for a long time before he looked up and said what millions of other anglers have said over the centuries, “That’s fishing.”
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. 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, so you will probably have to drive backwards down the ramp. Park in the upper lot on your left or continue through the low tunnel (if you have a large SUV or van with roof racks, I suggest checking the tunnel height BEFORE entering) to the lower parking lot and dock access. Watch out for cars exiting the tunnel!

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 to get on Canal Road BEFORE 6:15am. 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. Canal Road goes the other way, towards Chain Bridge, from 2:45 to 7:15pm.