It was under the then-unfinished Yellow Line Metro bridge in East Potomac Park, just off the first piling, that we snagged our first tangible evidence that the river had cleaned up: a 13-inch largemouth bass, lured by a rubber worm. We had heard that bass had returned to the city, welcome harbingers of the Potomac's revival, but that drizzly Tuesday morning in the spring of 1979 was the confirmation we needed. Our gratitude to the Metro bridge that gave us shelter from the rain and helped attract our first Washington bass is still keen.
Metro now offers new possibilities for urban fishing, a simple, convenient and inexpensive sport right on your doorstep. Washington fishing, until recently identical with the venerable delights of Fletcher's Boathouse, now embraces the whole Potomac riverfront, and at a dozen active fishing spots within easy strolls of Metro stations you can refresh your spirits as you catch your dinner.
For this unpretentious, easy and cheap fishing, all you need is some basic equipment and a Farecard. You have your choice of fresh or salty water to fish in, and monumental or sylvan scenes to view. What's more, your catch will be fresh when you get it home -- considerably fresher than you can find in the market -- and considerably cheaper.
What can you catch? More than a hundred species of fish have been identified as denizens of the Potomac's 287 miles, and many of these inhabit or visit D.C., where tidal waters mix with fresh. Occasional outsiders also put in appearances: A sturgeon was caught in 1982, the first recorded in the District in a century.
Prominent among underwater inhabitants is the ubiquitous catfish -- mostly channel cats or brown bullheads -- which used to have the reputation of being all there was to catch around here. More glamorous gamefish include rockfish, largemouth bass and smallmouths, whose return to city waters is an exciting tribute to the improvement of the water. Shad run in during April and May. Bluegill, carp, white and black crappie, pumpkinseed, white and yellow perch, chain pickerel and white suckers are regulars. We have also caught eels, turtles and, once, even a hardshell crab in downtown D.C. -- an escapee from the Maine Avenue fish market, perhaps.
To get to some of the spots from the nearest Metro stop, you have to cross the George Washington Parkway -- which is legal but demands a good bit of caution. If you're not too keen about scrambling through the traffic, most of those same fishing holes can be reached by car. WHERE TO GET OFF ON FISHING From Metro Center, both the Blue and Orange lines in either direction head for a number of good fishing places. Westbound, the Foggy Bottom station is the first promising stop you'll reach, and it offers a wider variety of options than any other. FOGGY BOTTOM: From here you can reach the Thompson Boat Center in 10 minutes or less by heading down New Hampshire Avenue toward the Kennedy Center, then going right down Virginia Avenue past the Watergate. The boat center unfortunately doesn't rent rowboats, only canoes. Downriver, the seawall at the old tide lock where Rock Creek enters the Potomac provides a comfortable perch just above water level. If this isn't necessarily the most productive fishing spot, it's surely one of the most diverting. On good days sunbathers, bicyclists, joggers, picknickers and idlers of all sorts color the large triangular meadow between the Watergate, the creek and the river. Nautical traffic, including an occasional boardsailer launched from the canoe house, competes for your attention with the acrobatic swoops of the swallows that make this place their home. Lots of people fish here, although the catch we have seen has never been stunning; here the sights compensate for fairly meager sport. To the south there's not much comfortable fishing, because of the seawall railing, until you get to the far side of the Roosevelt Bridge, where the unrailed seawall is only three or four feet above the water and you can relax in a surprisingly private little field. Beyond there, however, there's nothing until East and West Potomac parks. Heading the other direction from the Thompson Boat Center, there's very little access to the river until you reach Jack's Canoes, Boats, Bicycles, under the Whitehurst Freeway just past Key Bridge. Jack isn't cheap, but he has the only place on our tour where the Metrofisher can rent a suitable fishing boat. As you move up the river from there, you can find a few spots where the brush is thin enough to let you cast in relative ease and comfort. From here all the way to Fletcher's Boathouse, some three miles upstream, you can make your own access to less brackish water than you'll find downtown, and to the fish that prefer it. Here rockfish go for bloodworms or peeler crabs, while other bass prefer nightcrawlers or crankbaits. Smallmouth bass remain generally upriver from Georgetown. The Canal is at your back all this way, and we can't leave our Foggy Bottom stop without a word about it. At Fletcher's and above, the old C&O will furnish you with sunfish, carp and -- we assure you -- edible pan-sized catfish, along with an odd array of turtles and stragglers of other random breeds. ROSSLYN: "Virginia" here means only the location of the stations, not the river. Up to the high-water mark the Potomac is in the District of Columbia, and most of it's tidal: No state fishing regulations apply, and you don't need a license. In fact, there's no such thing as a D.C. fishing license, so don't let anybody sell you one. The Rosslyn station's awesome escalator puts you five minutes (1/4 mile) from the river, although you must thread a tangle of congested roadways to get to it. From the front of the station take a left down North Moore Street, right down 19th, and left on North Lynn for two blocks over I-66. Cut to the right along the ramp that carries traffic from George Washington Parkway (southbound) up to Key Bridge. When you're down to the parkway, cross where the guardrail on the center island runs out. A bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists at this spot is in the works, but at present getting across is tricky and requires great caution, since traffic is often fierce in both directions. But it's worth your effort: Unspoiled shoreline and big fish can be found less than 10 minutes from the station. Leading northwest under Key Bridge and beyond is a path somewhat grandly conceived as a "Potomac Heritage Trail" in one plan for the shoreline. The scenery here is fine, a few comfortable clearings are marked off by the ubiquitous heaps of beer cans, and the strong current draws fish. The river south of Key Bridge is equally fruitful. The first meadow you reach offers only shallow water at the clearing facing the Georgetown University towers, but just a few yards down, opposite the smokestack of the Papermill, the so-called Little River (the channel separating Roosevelt Island from the Virginia shore) is deeper and less removed from the current. We've hauled in sizable fish of several kinds from the wooded banks between these two clearings, but the low-hanging branches can snarl your line and wreck your cast. The 50-foot clearing on the Little River itself boasts a gentle but persistent current. Perch abide here in numbers, and the shallow also houses some fine big catfish to take home for dinner. Moving downstream from Rosslyn, we next reach the footbridge to Roosevelt Island. While angling is p unobstructed access to the river, except where tangled vegetation cuts you off. We've spotted schools of shiny minnows moving in and out of the channel, which can become virtually a muddy path at low water. From here to the base of Memorial Bridge, an area simply not accessible by car, Metrofishers enjoy "private" fishing grounds enhanced by beautiful views of the city. ARLINGTON CEMETERY: We've almost walked to the next Metro station at this point, so we ought to point out that this same area is closer to the Arlington Cemetery stop. It takes about seven minutes to reach the river walking along the promenade from the Arlington Cemetery station. Passing over the Boundary Channel, you often have the pleasure of watching the flocks of ducks it shelters as they glide through the murky water. Crossing the roads between there and the bridge is less fun, but necessary to reach a mile of fine fishing banks unobstructed except for a few patches of undergrowth. The joggers, cyclists and walkers often stop to ask how you're doing. (You can also use this approach to go upstream to Roosevelt Island and Key Bridge. It's a considerably longer hike than from Rosslyn, but safer.) PENTAGON: The Pentagon's a fine place to launch a campaign against the fish. Turn right to the Metro escalator to the outdoor bus ramp, not the one to the indoor shopping mall. From the north end of the bus station, steer around the Pentagon building, keeping it on your left and using the Washington Monument as your guidepost for roughly 150 yards. Take the river mall to the Pentagon Lagoon, a shallow pool fed by Boundary Channel. Head straight to the footbridge for the LBJ Memorial Grove and Columbia Island. At the base of this stylish bridge, comfortable benches built into the railing seem to promise comfortable and lazy fishing, but this cozy refuge is not a spot for fish. Although free of debris to snag your line, this area is too shallow to offer much sport. At the footbridge, you have two choices. The first is to cross it onto Columbia Island. The island-park provides some of the few amenities our city offers the Metrofisher. The snack bar of Columbia Island Marina is open every day from 9 to 7, and the outdoor soft drink machines are always accessible, as are the comfort stations. Mike of the Marina sells live bait on a regular basis, fing an acute lack for in-town anglers. From there, work your way with great care across the very busy George Wao the Potomac, where you'll see "the seagulls," more properly the Navy- Marine Memorial (1934), Ernesto Begni cate aluminum tribute to those who lost their lives at sea during World War I. The fishing here is active; ther from the southern bank at this point, and numerous fish like to explore the lagoon entrance. As a bonus, the here is one of the most edifying to be found. The other option at the footbridge is to stay on the Pentagon sThe lagoon may contain any number of fish at the south end; although sheltered, its waters are not stagnant, ttty clear and underwater plants offer a good supply of bass. The outlet to the river flowing under the George y, where fish enter and leave this serene harbor, is another likely spot. NATIONAL AIRPORT: Roaches Run, a shonal Airport, offers fishing opportunities unique in Washington. A tidal pond north of National Airport bounded the west and George Washington Parkway on the east, Roaches Run is a sanctuary for waterfowl and resident ospspecting fish from a hundred feet in the air. (The run takes its name, by the way, from the family of James Roach, a mid-19th-century brickmaker who owned and plumb its entire expanse during an afternoon. To the Metrofisher, on the other hand, this is the oy place in town, and maybe in the whole metropolitan area, where you can wade and fish practically right off tbass, crappie and bluegill are the targets, the last two more abundant. One day before last winter's freeze, a Roaches Run regular caught 60 crappie, s. Bass find the vegetation of the shallow waters suitable for spawning, and catfish tail about during low tid. We once caught a large cat on a popper bug with a flyrod while wading in the southern end of the pond. Cats behave decidedly like gamefish when you hook them on a flyrots shallowness and proximity to town, and its abundant cover and vegetation make Roaches Run an unusual haven man. Even the lowly bluegill is exciting game when hooked on a 6X tippet and five-weight line. You can range tfternoon of casting. You'll find a variety of vegetation, from lily pads to underwater weeds, wadable or withireach. Even in a stiff wind, the sheltering perimeter of trees allows better- than-adequate casting. The fly fisher can wade most of Roaches Run, especially at low tide, without risk of tangling back-casts in the foliage. It's an ot for the novice fly-rodder to practice. A small assortment of nymphs, preferably dark ones, and some streamell popper bugs can attract a bluegill on almost every cast, and a bass frequently enough to keep any angler ens mock their reputation as bottom feeders by taking streamers and minnows. In short, Roaches Run lets you try roductive fly fishing when you don't have the time to drive out to mountain streams or country ponds. You can ole northern edge of Roaches Run from the shore, using worms, minnows or livers. On muggy summer evenings, the anglers taking in the breeze, screened by the trees from the homebound commuters on the parkway. Most use lig snag in the weeds. A Metrofisher can join them by following the exit road from the National Airport station, he parkway with caution. Meanwhile, on the river side of the parkway immediately north of the airport, Gravell usual bank fishing. The three bridge spans afford adequate structures and the overhanging willows provide goocraft are no distraction, this area offers a pleasing solitude. If you follow the bicycle path south of the aiinutes, you'll reach the mouth of Four Mile Run. The Army Corps of Engineers recently dredged this creek to just west of U.S. 1 to control its chronic flooding, and the project promises some tidal-creek fishing for the future. Rocalong with the usual cat, crappie, and bluegill, already have been taken between the parkway and U.S. 1 from tike Trail. Returning now to Metro Center, we can find some other fine spots going east. SMITHSONIAN: The Depare exit places you at 12th and Independence SW. Move west along the avenue between the old and new Agriculture h Street, and then choose. A couple of blocks left toward the river and you can descend eventually to East Potton Channel or one end of the Tidal Basin. If you instead follow Independence straight into the park, between ng and the Washington Monument grounds, you reach the body of the Tidal Basin and the West Potomac Park stretcu ought to try the Tidal Basin some afternoon. It was held in high regard by the stubborn Washington anglers oago, when the nearby river was too foul to fish, and it has remained a favorite spot in better times. Fishing's not allowed in the congested and shallow eastern end, wherin empties into Washington Channel under a mesh of roads and bridges. Depths around the rest of the perimeter tintoe o 12-foot range, with a fairly sharp dropoff from the shore. The grassy area just southwest of the Jefferson Memorial is the only spot where the sidewalk doe the water's edge; located just above the entrance to the basin, it's a promising and comfortable spot. You cathing here, but a couple of species deserve special mention. The same spring that brings the cherry blossoms ahe Tidal Basin also brings the shad, at about the same time, in their annual spawning run up the Potomac. Thenwalls of the basin "snagging shad." Rarely is a shad hooked in the mouth going for bait like most fish. To sna you have to cast a shad "dart" (a large pronged hook) into the middle of the basin and allow it to sink. As tou retrieve the lure with a long, hard pull up and back on the rod; then you return the rod to the regular fisreel in the slack you just created. You generally snag the shad on the hard pull backward and realize that youwhen you start reeling in the slack. The dart is usually embedded in the side fin or tail of your catch rather. Reeling in the side-hooked shad makes you think you have something on the order of a tuna or marlin on your ne- or two-pound shad. Shad's a bony fish, but it's considered a springtime delicacy, and it commands high pri. Shad roe is another annual treat. Herring appear at about the same time, and you can scoop them out of the Ta long-handled net as they complete their seasonal spawning run. You can also have some fast and furious fun catching them with conventionalited hooks when the herring are on the move. A later arrival is the yellow perch, which is good eating and parh with very light tackle. They may not fight as long as other fish, but they let fly-rodders, using a Mickey Fr, exercise their skills without driving two or three hours up to the streams of the Blue Ridge. Yellow perch are also marvelous fout learning to fish for the first time. Mom or Dad need only supply the poles, some small hooks with light split-shot cg weights, and some grass shrimp, minnows or small worms from the garden. The Tidal Basin can be fished througer and beyond. Shallow and protected, it warms up earlier and retains its warmth longer than most of the Potomer. The eastern end by the Jefferson Memorial offers passages under the freeways and bridges to East Potomac Park. On the river side is that Metro bridge where we caught that first bass and many other spots of promise, augh the water's generally only five or six feet deep for some distance out, all the way to Hains Point. The not Potomac Park offers a mile of clear access to Washington Channel, with the floor dropping abruptly from the 15 or 20 feet. We've found bass here. This is a good stretch for night fishing, with the city lights across the water and much movement under the water; on hot summer nights it can become awfully noisy here, though, as airplanes approach National Airport and the park fills to capacity with evening picnickers. The fish don't seemind the noise, but neither do the mosquitoes, which abound here. L'ENFANT PLAZA: From L'Enfant Plaza's western one under the Department of Transportation is closed on weekends -- you can move up the plaza's 10th Street promenade to Banneker Circle with its fine vistas of the Washington Channel and East Potomac Park. You can cut down the hill to the left it you want to reach the Maine Avenue fish market, a source of cheap, smelly baits. Most of the deck behind the waterfront restaurants is useless to you, fenced from the river by the Gangplank Marina. All the fishing's to the south. Cutting to the left from Banneker Circle, o fore the pier of the Washington Boat Lines. The gap between this pier and that of the Harbor Police affords some surprisingly large catfish, and a good number of eels testify to the cleanliness of the water. Here you need a strong test line to haul in the larger fish, since the seawall keeps you 10 or 12 feet above the water level. You have to tire out the big cats by playing them until they roll over onto their sides; otherwise they'll struggle and snap your line as you raise them to sidewalk level. Below the police pier, you can follow the promenade past the row of elegant condominiums that characterize the "new" Southwest to the Titanic Memorial, with Fort McNair beyond. This is the domain of the bass. The return of the bass christened the reborn Potomac. Their abundance is becoming well known, and any fair dawn may reveal a variety of luxurious bass boats plying the seawall, their occupants pulling toward the shore and casting outward. The humbler Metrofisher is at no great disadvantage, except for the height of the seawall. Rubber worms, more readily portable than live baits, seem as likely to fetch a prize here as the fancier commercial lures. There's little on the bottom to snag your hook during repeated casts. Since the current here is pretty weak, a half- ounce weight is usually plenty. At Fort McNair, a little farther along at P Street, you have to make advance arrangements to fish, so don't just show up there -- go down some days in advance and ask the guard for Building 32 (just inside the gate), where a permit can be arranged. It's worth the effort, since the fort adjoins some of the best bass waters accessible from the shore in these parts. It's less than a mile from the main gate to Greenleaf Point, at the junction of the Potomac and the Anacostia. Straight off the point and northeast up the Anacostia, the riverb fairly gently; along the Washington Channel to the northwest, however, the dropoff is steep, and bass lurk byll -- which, by the way, is lower than that along the Southwest promenade. Here you're on nearly equal terms wiat hug the shore. In fact, a number of comfortable benches are placed along the water immediately south of thehe dental clinic, for the cushiest fishing situation on our tour. The channel here is especially productive duing run, when the shad hug the wall here. Remember, the Army is under no obligation to tolerate civilian angle so read all the signs, obey all the rules and pick up all your trash. This detour on the Yellow Line leads us Orange lines, going southeast toward the Anacostia River. There's hope yet for the Anacostia, but it's not yet really a fishing r, so we'll skip the stops at Potomac Avenue and Stadium-Armory until the river completes its comeback. Of cour to use the Metro to go fishing. A number of good close-in spots are just too hard to reach that way: Fletcherl Road NW, Jones Point at the Virginia end of the Wilson Bridge, Oxon Creek at the Oxon Hill Children's Farm, even the Alexandria rfront park at the foot of Prince Street in Old Town are good spots not easily reached by public transit. But ins: You can Metrofish, and life here is now a little bit richer because you can.