Fishing for beginners at Fletcher's Boathouse
By Sean Kelly
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 20, 2011
For the next month, almost anyone can catch fish on the Potomac River near the Boathouse at Fletcher's Cove. Look along the species-rich river from Three Sisters Islands to Chain Bridge, and you'll find the wilderness-like shoreline filled with fishers of all ages and experience levels.
It's now the end of the spring spawn season, and the waterway is full of hungry fish that swim in from the ocean, including delectable white perch, which can be caught from the river bottom, and the more sporting hickory and American shad, which swim in mid-water. The river also has a healthy population of resident fish: rockfish, small- and large-mouth bass, trophy-sized catfish and bluegills.
"There are generally four runs of reproducing fish that come up the river to spawn here," said Dan Ward, who has fished the river and worked at the boathouse for 30 years. "If we don't have any more heavy rain, we should have a splendid month of good fishing left."
The swollen Potomac, which flooded Georgetown's Washington Harbour restaurants and prompted multiple water rescues in April, made fishing next to impossible for much of the past month. The river water receded and boats were out on the water last week, but with recent rains, it's best to check with the boathouse before you go.
To bottom fish successfully, whether by boat or from shore, all you need to do is worm a hook and use a one- or two-ounce sinker to drop the bait just up from the river's bottom, as close to its current as possible. This is where the white perch like to feed, so expect your rod to get a quick, feisty jerk from an energetic strike. The staff at the boathouse can provide basic fishing instruction and outfit you with equipment.
Last week, Gustino Cabrera, 52, of Washington walked by the boathouse showing off an array of catfish he and his friends had caught. Their haul was so heavy it took two of them to lift it. Downriver, Francisco Merlos, 48, who once caught a 25-pound tagged rockfish, had a steady stream of white perch taking his bait. And Natalia Yeung, 30, from Hong Kong, was on the riverbank for the first time, trying her luck.
Fly fishermen also flock here to test their skills against the shad. These anglers cluster in and around the river, working their rods artfully, like the cormorants swooping in from overhead. Some fly fishers say the action within a short distance of the Washington Monument can be as thrilling as in any Western river.
"Now that the water is a little lower, things are really beginning to pick up," said Dalton Terrell, 23, of Arlington, who was making precision casts from the shore downriver from Chain Bridge. "I'm just getting out again now, but I caught an American shad that was about 2-1/2 pounds. That was some good fun."
Fishing license, $10-$13; rod, reel and bait, $40; rowboats, $22 a day.
After 145 years of business, the fourth generation of Fletchers retired in 2004 from selling bait and tackle and renting boats and bicycles from their shed along the Potomac. The National Park Service assumed responsibility of the boathouse and maintained the Fletchers' legacy in both name and spirit. In its time, the boathouse has served senators, Supreme Court justices and presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Fishing starts in mid-March, when white perch migrate upstream to find fresh water for hatching eggs. Next come the influx of shad and herring from the sea. Fishing season culminates in early May with the large striped bass, also known as rockfish, which can weigh in at 50 pounds.
The boathouse offers canoes, kayaks and bright red rowboats for rental on the Potomac and the canal and rents bikes for riding on the canal towpath or the Capital Crescent Trail. Bait, tackle and fishing licenses are also available.