Well….they are here…….lots of fish caught up at Fletcher’s this past weekend.
QUEUE SHADNESS MADNESS!!!!
With water temps now in the low-mid 50s, expect action on our Nation’s River to really pick up in a big way….and fast. After one of the worst winters I’ve ever experienced up this way, life is returning to the water in the form of the season’s first big push of shad and striped bass from the Chesapeake.
Along with the anadromous fishes (those who make the great journey from the sea to the river to spawn), largemouth and smallmouth bass are starting to perk up after a winter of lethargy and sketchiness. Creeks should start holding some impressive specimens here once the water calms down after Monday’s rain.
Snakeheads and gar won’t be too far behind the bass as water temps keep climbing north of 55 degrees.
Carp are a year-round option, albeit the canal is no place for the weary kind (tight casting space, pedestrian traffic, and sight fishing carp in general being a war of attrition), but even these finicky bulldogs make horrible life choices once the mulberries start popping off the bank in the next few weeks.
In other words, there is a lot to look forward to as the early spring weather continues to make us forget winter….and we haven’t even started talking trout water…..
Of course our ill-timed rains have synced up with the weekends to keep water relatively high and unfishable to start the season but if you’re down to explore – options abound.
Sinking lines in the 250-300gr variety are a must on the main river up at Fletcher’s with an intermediate being my preferred weapon of choice when fishing the slower water and tidal tributaries downstream from the cove in Alexandria.
Having not yet made the trek to Fletcher’s to swing for shad; I’ve made stops at Gravelly Point and the C&O Canal in recent days. I’ll be making my shad debut sometime next week.
Gravelly is still slow, a few resident stripers here and there but nothing too crazy to report just yet. Saw my first surface activity this weekend so that’s a good sign that bait is starting to be flushed out of the Duck Pond. Expect action to really heat up in a week or so once the river comes back down.
Even though the rest of it hasn’t been filled yet (to the chagrin of my buddy Connor), the C&O around Lock 7 is loaded with carp right now. On a recent trip with a buddy we had legit shots at half a dozen fish, saw close to 20-25 over the course of a few hours, and even managed to move a few. A #8 black bead head bugger got the most love out of any our offerings. It’s always nice seeing these fickle beats react to the fly, but we ultimately couldn’t come tight and bring a fish to the net. Oh well – like I said earlier, it’s a war of attrition. Sometimes you make a perfect presentation and it’s ignored and at other times you make a loud, reckless presentation that for sure should spook the fish and it gets clobbered…go figure. You’ve just to keep your head in the game and try to make EVERY cast count for something. Expect the game to become less difficult once the mulberries become ripe.
After today’s half inch of rain the river is supposed to crest on Thursday at 6.1 feet, essentially right back to where we were mid-week last week with angry, high water and no boating opportunities. If you’re itching to get out, Monday afternoon (today) and Tuesday morning should provide decent shots at fish before the water gauges shoot above 5ft for the rest of the week. Fishing from shore at Fletcher’s should be solid despite the increased flows. If you venture down that way, please BE AWARE OF THE DANGER. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re most likely done if you fall in that current.
And with each passing second, the river is rising……
After spending the past weekend chasing redfish, tarpon, and snook in Siesta Key’s Garden of Eden – the Heron Lagoon – I returned to the realities of our Nation’s River. Since this is an urban fishing blog and supposed to be a Potomac River fishing report – I’ll give a brief recap of my adventures on the Treasure Coast. In four days I managed to jump 4 juvenile tarpon (8-15lbs), boat 12 or so snook up to 22”, and fooled 3 carefully sight casted reds (all over 26”) while spooking countless more. I’ll admit, there’s an obvious drop off between jumping tarpon in a mangrove wonderland and bopping snakeheads on the nose with big and ugly streamers in the Tidal Basin, but the tug is the drug and you've got to fish where you are (thanks to Matt Miles and the Urban Lines crew for that one). With Gravelly closed to wading anglers – I’ve had to change up my game to pursue our local striper population. But fear not, all is not lost.
Let’s make this clear - Gravelly Point is not the only place that consistently produces schoolie striper action in our district waters. The river is flush with these feisty game fish right now and will be for the next few weeks until water temps get too high and they retreat to deeper, cooler water. The challenge is finding areas that concentrate these aggressive game fish. In my experience, one can consistently find stripers in areas with current, depth change (think shallow water close to deep water), and lots of bait. Areas such as Chain Bridge, Little Hunting Creek, the Tidal Basin, Four Mile Run, and the mouth of Rock Creek Park on moving tides are all places to target schoolie action in the summer.
This past week, I managed to get a few days on the water chasing stripers at Chain Bridge and Little Hunting Creek. Throwing a small striped bass imitation on full grain sinking line during the last few hours of the falling tide into the main current and stripping it through the eddy seam produced a few fish at Chain Bridge with the largest being a chunky 17”. Bites were not hot and heavy, but each fish was healthy. I’d love to see a moratorium put on the striper fishery so that these stocks could recover and the giant fish (50+lbs) we saw in the late 90s, early 2000s would come back. Outside of stripers - there was a lot of surface activity from spawning gar and a few rises that looked suspiciously like snakeheads. I didn’t see many hookups from the spin or bait fishermen, but the river is still full of fish. Working the outgoing tide at Little Hunting Creek produced a more consistent bite than the big, deep water at Chain Bridge. Swinging some smaller deceiver (size 6) patterns on a RIo intermediate streamer line produced well in the shadow lines, most fish were cookie cutter 10-13” but there were definitely some bigger fish mixed in as they were quite loud in their pursuits of fleeing baitfish.
With Andrea done tormenting our area, expect the river to be off color for a few days and water a tad higher than usual but nothing flood like as the river should be done cresting on Thursday (if more rain doesn’t ruin things). The rain dropped water temps into the low 70s so expect action to be solid this week for our river’s game fish population. In off color water, try fishing darker patterns (black & purple) near structure for largemouth, smallmouth, snakeheads, and catfish. Tight lines.
Last week I fished Gravelly Point, the Tidal Basin, and Chain Bridge. The Potomac River continues to provide action to those seeking it. Snakehead, Gar, Carp, Striped Bass, Largemouth, Smallmouth, and pan fish action are all heating up as the Shadams family starts wrapping it up before their migration back towards the Ocean. Look for LMB and panfish on shallow spawning beds (hard bottom, shallow water) until the end of the June. Also – CICADA action. Tie em up and get em wet.
Recently, I’ve been night fishing the outgoing tides in areas where bait is concentrated. In these areas, striped bass, walleye, LMB , smallmouth, and crappie have all been the usual suspects with a few random catfish mixed in. Until this weekend, a 6-7 wt rod has been the perfect amount of backbone for most of these fish.
On Sunday night, albeit a full moon and slightly off color water, the conditions were right to find some stripers around Reagan Airport. There were some fish around ( a few pops on top but not a ton), but none fell for the size 6 baitfish imitation I was throwing. However, where the stripers failed me – big gar and catfish did not. Attempting to find some deeper water in the current, I ended up getting dragged into my backing 4 times in one night and crossing two species off my list. Considering this a hiccup – the Potomac’s version of a practical joke – I left the 8wt in the car and ventured out into the darkness the next night with my 7wt again. Big mistake.
Immediately I was into something big that took me into the backing (5 fish, 5 backing runs). After a ten minute struggle, I brought my first golden of the night to the net. After snapping a few pics, I went back to my spot and gave it a few more casts by the outflow before venturing off to fish the deeper bowls. It was a good call. Although bites were spread out over 15-20 minute periods, I managed to hook into another large blue cat (27”, 8lbs), my second big ghost of the night (33”, 15lbs), and a mystery fish (which took me 15 yards into my backing). After the second ghost of the night and the clock approaching 3:30am I decided to call it quits. In two nights of hunting for stripers there were a total of 7 bites, 7 runs into the backing, and 0 striped bass caught. Talk about getting weird.
Last week I fished Gravelly Point, the Duck Pond, Tidal Basin, Rock Creek Park, and Fletcher’s Cove via boat.
Action continues to be hot on the Tidal Potomac. Our run of larger striped bass (measured in lbs not inches) is underway at Fletcher’s Cove/Chain Bridge along with white perch, river herring, and the entire Shadams family (Gizzards, Hickories, and Americans). Fishing big clousers and streamers on full sink lines deep and jigging the fly back up through the water column has been an effective method for getting to these larger stripers.
To get as deep as possible, make your initial cast and mend/strip out line until you start seeing your backing. Once your line straightens out behind the boat, you’ve reached your max depth. If this still isn’t deep enough, try lifting the rod tip up and slapping the line down on the water to get the fly sinking again. The stripers won’t come on every cast, but for those willing to put in the time – the reward is certainly worth the effort. If schoolies are more of your thing, check out Gravelly Point on an outgoing night or early morning tide.
It seems like everywhere I’ve checked out recently has some combination of herring, shad, or perch. Any place with a tide swing seems to be housing shad - the outflow at Gravelly Point/Duck Pond, Rock Creek Park, and Tidal Basin are a few of such places. Gar are also starting to become active again in the Duck Pond as they prepare to get their spawn on as well – start tying up rope flies.
Rain is in the forecast for Tuesday this week. Be sure to check the little falls gauge before heading out. I'll probably take a break from the Shadness Madness and pursue some trout this week.
The world is your oyster this time of year – shuck it.
What a glorious weekend to get on the water. With air temps in the low 70s to mid-60s, fish were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing this weekend – spawning or gorging. Not a bad time to be a fish...or a fisherman for that matter.
Shad (Hickory, Gizzard, and Americans) are thick up at Chain Bridge/Fletcher’s Cove. More Americans and Striped Bass have moved into the river offering anglers a shot at larger Instagram trophies. As noted last week, shad have sworn off the pink stuff. Hit them hard with CHARTREUSE darts, torpedoes, or any other small fly with that color incorporated on sinking line and you should be in the game. For stripers, throw larger herring pattern streamers or big clousers on sinking lines to get down in the water column through all the shad. Vary your retrieve until you start connecting (FYI - you may snag a gizzard shad or two…just roll with it).
For fishermen targeting largemouth bass in the more tidal section (below Three Sisters), continue to look for structure on hard bottom in shallow water that’s close to deeper water.
The night bite at Gravelly Point has been consistently productive thus far in the early season. I’ve been hooking into schoolie stripers, pre-spawn largemouth, smallmouth bass, crappie, white perch, and even a walleye (or three) in the past couple weeks on Sex Panthers and similarly themed clousers. About an hour and a half to two hours after the tide drop have been the most productive times. Try fishing the Duck Pond flats for largemouth and other typical mixed bag action on the incoming tide.
Rock Creek Park is flush with shad, bass, sunfish, and carp right now. For those wishing to catch shad or bass on lighter gear, this is your opportunity.
The Tidal Basin snakehead population continues to show off. After hooking one fish in the mouth last week, I was skunked this week…but saw plenty of fish. Shad, white perch, and blue gill are all over the sea wall here as well. I’m not sure if stripers have gotten thick in here just yet. I did see/hear some suspiciously striper-esque pops under the Ohio Drive bridge. Try an incoming tide or the early stages of an outgoing tide (easier to land fish - less space between you, fish, and sea wall).
Tight lines this week and enjoy the spring time – it only happens once a year.
Last Friday’s rain storm sure messed a lot of things up. The hot shad bite we had been experiencing cooled down with the rain and muddied water…..the shore bite disappearing altogether on Monday. The striped bass and largemouth bite also cooled significantly with the rain and subsequent post front conditions. But fish can still be caught dragging big, dark flies in and around structure. Water temps dropping from 70 degrees to 60 in the course of a week didn’t help things either. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise –the Potomac and its tributaries are adversely affected by big rains. That’s not to say that fish were not caught this weekend. When big rains effect the Potomac - community ponds, public lakes, and other areas without extreme runoff become hot spots. The infusion of fresh oxygen into the water usually ignites the bite in a big way. But muddy water and blue bird skies don’t make things easier. Period.
Unfortunately for fishermen this past weekend, the big storm happened on Friday – leaving the river a muddied wasteland for most of the fishable weekend. High skies and zero cloud cover didn’t help ignite the bite as much as squash it. Even hitting the water on Monday, there were noticeable mud lines and very few patches of “clean” water. Knowing that the shad bite would significantly cool down at Fletcher’s in addition to the largemouth and striper bite – I decided to check out some areas for Snakeheads down river.
I chose the Tidal Basin not only for its somewhat robust snakehead population, but also because the snakeheads in the lower part of the river do not have lock jaw (unlike the spawners upriver at Chain Bridge). In what I like to call, “Urban Whale Watching” – snakeheads will come up to breathe air every 20 minutes or so, giving away their position with a telltale boil – I waited to see if any fish were around…and were they.
In my experience, the tidal outlet on Ohio Drive holds good numbers of these fish. There are some monsters in there too (3.5ft+) so be prepared for anything and everything. I found fish on the incoming tide nearest the inflow on Ohio Drive. I worked the gate for about an hour or so with no luck. Every pattern I tried failed. Including the Sex Panther…..I then walked the sea wall for a few hundred yards covering all water between Ohio Drive and the FDR Memorial. Still, nothing. Somewhat tired and defeated (beautiful weather, ugly water) I decided to give it one more shot at the bridge. I’m glad I did.
On the second cast, I felt a big bump and strip set hard on what I figured to be a catfish or bass. Snakeheads are too smart, too finick, I thought to myself. Man, do I need to keep the faith more. My rod doubled over, a monster snakehead erupted from the water, and my adrenaline started flowing. After a spectacular display of brutish strength, I got the fish to the wall….only to realize that A) the tide was still too low for me to boga grip it and B) my net was too small. A good problem to have I guess….until I got the fish’s head in the net, the fish slid backwards out of said net, and the hook dislodged from its toothy gullet. I’ve never come closer to snapping my rod.
So…. sorry for being long winded, just thought I’d share that moment of truth.….
Water will clear up by today or Wednesday with a return to fishing normal spring patterns. Chartreuse has been the color for shad recently as they’ve collectively decided to swear off the pink stuff. For stripers look for current and bait (incoming, outgoing tides at creek mouths) and for largemouth, look for fish holding on shallow structure.
First and foremost - a happy birthday to my sainted mother Lorraine Wallace. Secondly - the shad run is on big time.
With water temps in the mid 50s (and CLIMBING!!!!) expect things to only get better down at Fletcher's Cove, as the presence of American Shad and Snakeheads will start becoming more visibly felt with the passing of the calendar.
As for this past weekend - fishing was slower on Friday, luke warm on Saturday, and on fire on Sunday. This was a weekend of many firsts for Matt Devaney, Pat McLeod, and Dennis Feliciano as they all caught their first hickories this weekend.
All shad (hickories exclusively) were taken just south of the boathouse (but north of Three Sisters). Allowing the fly to sink around 10-13 feet in the water column and stripping it back once the line cleared behind the boat was key. Once the fly got deep, making short, choppy strips back to the boat made the difference when the fish were in thick. However, when action slowed down - slow steady strips also produced their share of hits.
For my shad rig, I like to throw two flies (Rem's Kindergarten Special and Rem's Brown Noser) in variations of pink and green. I prefer using a short section of 3x tippet (1-3 feet) to attach the first fly and an additional foot or two for the second fly instead of a conventional leader because it provokes shad that short strike your fly. You'll notice in the pics on the right that I use barbless circle hooks for my shad flies. I do this for a few reasons:
A) Care for the Fish: Plain and simple, they're easier on the fish. Plus you don't have to worry about snagging gizzard shad and perfect hook sets are usually in the corner of the mouth.
B) Safer: When in close proximity to other boats or fishing with two anglers in the boat - these flies make it impossible to snag yourself or someone else. (FYI proper etiquette is not anchoring your boat 5-15 feet in front of someone - this happened to my twice this weekend. Rather than being a complete Rick, try and stay about 45-50 feet away from other boats if you can. I know the currents make it tricky and there are a ton of people out there, but don't be a complete Rick. I'm all about sharing the water - as evidenced in last week's word hatch - but it's a completely different story when someone is anchored up and you decide to post up within spitting distance. Above all else, stay fly, right?)
C) Keep your flies: Similar to it being difficult to snag people or undesirable fishes, it takes some serious misfortune for one of these flies to snag on the bottom. After losing 15 or so flies in my first 4 trips, I've lost 3.
Try circle hook streamers for yourself. You won't be disappointed. The fish gods may even thank you for it.
Finally, something new to report. Four Mile Run is no longer the only place to catch fish! Spring is here! Well... not entirely just yet, but the water temps are pushing 50 and will definitely get into the low to mid 50s by the end of the week. This means a bunch of things for our area's fly fishing community:
A) SHAD RUN
B) STRIPER RUN
C) SNAKEHEAD RUN
D) PRE-SPAWN LARGEMOUTH
E) BEST TROUT FISHING OF THE YEAR
So what's a fly fisherman to-do? There are just too many options.
Well, here is where I come in with some advice. Especially with shad catch reports starting to become more consistent on theTPFR forum and Fletcher's Boathouse website - try to do a little bit of everything. Don't limit yourself. Spring is only sprung for a small portion of our angling calendar. Go nuts.
Options A-C all take place on the same stretch of river near Fletcher's Cove and Chain Bridge. Bringing two rods, while often times a complete burden, will actually serve you well here because you can easily switch from a shad set up to your striper/snakehead rig depending on the respective fishery's temperament that day. Additionally, snakeheads seem to pop out of nowhere, so it'll be good to keep that extra rod close by. FYI - Pink seems to be the color for shad thus far and stripers are not stacked up at Gravelly Point just yet.
As for my catching this past week/weekend, I decided to chase some trout.
On Wednesday of last week, I fished the public section of Mossy Creek. Throwing some hand-tied patterns (meet Kermit), I had one rise from a big brown in the first bridge pool, before having to settle for a few fall fish and one more rise/rejection. A beautiful morning on a gorgeous stretch of water is hard to beat, but driving the 2.5 hrs for a skunking is tough to take. Luckily the next night was the Fly Fishing Film Tour, so I got my fill of fish porn regardless if I was the one doing the catching or not.
On Friday, I fished with Trent Jones of Orvis Bethesda. After telling him about the shit show in Virginia's stocked trout waters, he decided to introduce me to Maryland's Beaver Creek - a small limestone creek in Hagerstown, MD that boasts a healthy population of wild brown and rainbow trout. This creek is a gem. Having almost exclusively fished Virginia's trout waters, I was very impressed with both the number of fish per pool and the quality of them. In short - gorgeous, wild fish an hour from DC. That's hard to beat.
We caught about a dozen or so browns with a pretty rainbow mixed-in in a few hours on the water, Trent slaying them with the smallest dry (size 24) I've ever seen and me, nymphing with size 22 zebra midges and scuds. The largest fish was around 12" but we broke off larger fish throughout the day (fml). The fish were particular about what they ate and are definitely spooky, so careful wading and general stealthiness are key (no need for SNP brook trout stealth tactics though).
I'll be hitting the stretch from Fletcher's Cove to Chain Bridge this week before work in pursuit of shad, stripers, and snakeheads with a guest appearance on the private waters of Mossy Creek on Friday. Add in MLB Opening Day and I'm in heaven.
Hope springs eternal.
Remick Smothers is a native son of the District of Columbia and the founder of FlyTimesDC.