With rockfish biting at Morgantown, it won't be long before they move up the Potomac to District waters on the annual spring spawning run, alongside herring, shad and white and yellow perch. From mid-March to May, Washington is a fishing hotbed, and the heart of it is Fletcher's Boathouse below Chain Bridge.
But when fish come this year, will Fletcher's be ready? Brothers Joe and Ray Fletcher retired at Christmastime, giving up a franchise their forebears ran since just after the Civil War. The National Park Service hopes to get a new concessionaire installed in time for the spring run, but signs are not good.
The phone at Fletcher's is disconnected and the only things that have changed since Jan. 1, when the old concession expired, are locks on the doors. Fleets of wooden rental boats, canoes and bicycles lie dormant, and no one, it seems, is in charge.
Longtime Fletcher's employee Danny Ward dropped down in mid-January with Joe and Ray Fletcher to relocate the main dock on their own when floodwaters threatened. Ward, 49, hopes to work for a new operator, and the Park Service has expressed interest in keeping him on, but negotiations on all fronts are moving slowly.
The local NPS concessions chief, Steve LeBel, said he's negotiating with the Fletchers to buy their assets and with a major corporation to take over, but nothing is finalized. When it is, he must then get Park Service approval. LeBel says he's "hopeful" of working the details out by early March.
With five or six weeks to go before fishing starts, anglers used to getting boats, licenses, bait and tackle at Fletcher's probably should consider alternatives. Fishing from the bank is allowed whether the boathouse opens or not, LeBel said, and small boats can be hand-launched from the bank. Boat trailers are not permitted.
For news on Fletcher's and the spring shad run, anglers can attend Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chapter of Trout Unlimited's meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at B-CC Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, where Joe and Ray Fletcher are to get an award for their service to area anglers and where experts Joe Fletcher and Mike Alper will offer tips on shad fishing. Check the Web site at www.NCC-TU.org.