Potomac River, Washington, D.C., May 12, 2018
After another rainstorm and high water event caused a brief holdup for rowboat rentals from Fletcher’s Boathouse for a few days, the Potomac River dropped low enough for a restart of the shad fishing season.

I was waiting in line at the tackle shack when I spotted a familiar SUV pull into the parking lot with a red canoe strapped to the roof. I suspected it was Bass Master and it was a correct guess as I watched him walk towards the short lineup. I was here for a shad and river recon mission. As a
Big Brother, Jin wanted to bring someone he was mentoring to DC to experience the shad bite so I was scouting areas where a first-timer could catch a few fish with a spinning rod and have a good time. I told the Bass Master what my plan was and invited him to join me if he was willing to move around the river a bit. He agreed and brought along a spinning rod so I could judge whether it was a good spot for the proposed gear we’d use the following day.

We set up just outside the bubble line at a favorite spot and began to fish. The tide was heading down and would bottom out soon, so I knew the bite wouldn’t be that great until the water started to move again. The current was still moving fast, pushing the normal boat layup closer to shore but in my opinion we were still in the fishing zone and it wouldn’t matter that much. However the Potomac was still colored up and full of debris—not as bad as the previous high water event but still not that great. The fish sonar showed targets on the bottom but lots of junk floating in the water column.

Fishing was excruciatingly slow. We started out with fly rods and caught maybe one shad each, but after almost an hour Bass Master switched to the spinning rod and his catch rate went up a bit but it was still deadly slow. Other anglers weren’t having much luck either. There were about six boats anchored above us and two others below—there wasn’t the usual morning rush for rowboats, so by 8:30am there were still a number of boats tied up in the cove—and all I saw was a whole lot of fishing going on but very little or no catching. I had a bad feeling about it. I had gone through days like this. Very tough fishing days, when the bite was way off, were brutal. You earned every fish you caught.

We tried fishing at a number of locations but the results were always the same. We’d get maybe one or two fish, American, Hickory, Gizzard shad, perch, catfish, herring or juvenile striper then nothing else would bite. We changed flies, lures, spoons, darts, leaders, retrieve speed and fishing depth but with no change in the final catching result. We pulled up the rock and headed as far as we could go upstream towards Chain Bridge but the fishing did not improve and the fish sonar showed very few targets but a lot of barren bottom.

I maneuvered our rowboat back downstream and tried a final location. This spot usually produced fish but after hooking a couple tiny Hickories, a herring and a decent American, I told the Bass Master we were done. All the other morning boats had left the river for the day and we were the last of the originals left. There were more paddleboard, and kayak renters on the river now—it was a beautiful day for it—but the fishing was absolutely awful. I messaged Jin and told him it would not be a good idea to come down to fish the next day. Rain was also forecast and with the way the water looked and how it was fishing, it would be a miserable trip.
Before we left for the day Bass Master treated me to a tackle shack hot dog and Coke, which made the day a winner in my opinion.

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 6am. 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.