This spring’s Potomac River shad run at Fletcher’s Cove could be a delight for the fish and a disaster for the anglers if a new problem getting boats out isn’t fixed at the beleaguered popular fishing hole.
Legions of fishing enthusiasts are alarmed by the early closing this fall of the dock at the beloved inside-the-Beltway site and the prospects for its reopening in the spring.
The National Park Service closed the dock in October, two weeks early, because the walkway leading to it was deemed unsafe. The dock is used by boats to get access to the river.
The walkway has become tilted by river debris that is jammed underneath, the Park Service said.
“We asked that it be closed because it was dangerous for visitors to access the dock,” said John Noel, deputy superintendent of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The walkway was “at an angle, and in our opinion, somebody could slip off and hurt themselves.”
But fishing advocates say they are afraid that the problem might not be fixed in time for the opening of the season.
“It would be a great loss to the entire community,” said Terry Cummings, 58, of the Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, a fly-fishing club that uses Fletcher’s. “It’s an oasis within the Beltway for fishermen.”
“If we lose access to the river because the dock is unsafe, and we can’t get the boats out, thousands of people, I think, are going to be impacted,” Cummings said.
Noel said: “We’re in the process of trying to engage some folks that can help us determine both a short-term and a long-term solution.
“Our primary focus is to make sure that it’s open in the spring, for the fishing season, but also . . . develop a long-term solution,” he added.
He said river access for canoes and kayaks at the cove is still available.
Generations of anglers have used Fletcher’s to set out for shad, rockfish, perch, catfish and largemouth bass.
The cove got its name from the family that lived in the area for years and, until a decade ago, operated the fishing, boating and biking concession.
It is said to have been visited by presidents, professors, judges and legislators as well as hordes of other anglers.
But over the years, it has gradually filled with silt. The cove was dredged many years ago but has since filled again, and that remains the root of the problem, Noel said.
Aside from the debris, the silt is forming an island under the dock, said Mark Binsted, of the National Capital Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“It’s possible that the driftwood alone, removing that, would improve things a bit,” he said. “However, it’s not a permanent solution, because it will happen again. And the silt will increase more and more.”
“The long-term solution is complicated,” he said.
“If you dredge, the silt comes back. If you move the dock, it might be more vulnerable to flooding.”
Short-term, Cummings said, “our concern is: Is there going to be a timely fix? If they delay, we could lose a whole fishing season down there.”