NCC-TU Presents

The 2019

Shad Report

No. 5

At the Peak

May 3, 2019

Over the years, the first week of May has been very good to shad anglers. Since our last report, river conditions have steadily improved and the American shad run at Fletcher’s Cove has developed as expected. Based on what I have observed in recent days, it is fair to say that the peak of the Potomac run has arrived, the length of which remains to be determined. What’s more, if you head upstream you will find that the hickory shad run is back for an encore.


What happens when the American shad run peaks during higher than normal flow? The answer appears obvious but is often forgotten: fish will hug the shoreline where the current is more manageable. Young Anne Trieu most powerfully demonstrated this lesson on Thursday evening last week. Her dad, Phong Trieu, works on improving the Anacostia River for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, but their home is just a few minutes walk from the Potomac. Phong's proud email arrived with the spectacular photo above and only a subject line: “My daughter landed her first tonight on a fly rod." Turbidity and flow were still rather high that day, so this was both a welcome sign of things to come and an amazing feat by an eight-year-old angler. Congratulations for an outstanding catch, Anne!


Last Friday, given the murky water and strong flow, it made sense to head down to the Walkers Point area at first light. When a favorite hole failed to produce it was easy to blame the conditions, but I couldn’t help but notice the recurring sounds of splashing behind me. Chris Gable had paddled down and anchored in shallow water very close to the shoreline (photo above). Those splashes were American shad arriving to his red canoe with amazing frequency. I had a nice chat with Gable and could feel his energy and excitement. He’s from Ohio like my mom, far from shad rivers and protected from the common ailment we know here as shad fever. But Midwesterners must be very susceptible. It didn’t surprise me much when a vehicle with a red canoe on top entered the Fletcher’s driveway later in the afternoon, making a beeline to the put-in at the end of the lot.


The same section was still fishing well on Wednesday. Alex Binsted came down early to see what the fuss was about. He and Conner Donovan took several Americans on spinning tackle by casting close to shore about fifty feet downstream of Gable’s spot. When they moved on to seek stripers, I positioned my boat in the narrow seam where their fish were taken and dropped my fly below. The action was impressive until the tide moved out a bit too far, requiring a move closer to the main flow. Jim Greene and Chuck Dinkel, the past and present leadership for TU’s (Maryland) Trout in the Classroom program, anchored below me and landed some nice roes as well (photo above). Greene was delighted to be out in the crisp air on the Potomac for the first time this year. Lois Boland also reported great success there on Tuesday and Thursday in her kayak, snapping a 5wt rod in the process of landing a big roe. I’ll say it again: For these strong American shad, you’d better bring a 7 or 8 weight rod.

The close-to-shore fishing was also excellent upstream, particularly off of the popular shore area known as Gordon’s Rock. Early Tuesday morning, Mike Bailey and Alex Binsted hooked plenty of American shad by casting within five feet of the bank. It was frustrating news for those of us without motors — the high flow combined with an outgoing tide made it impossible to row up there. A gracious offer of a tow from my oldest solved that problem for Chris Wood and I, in separate boats with guests aboard. However, this particular fishing hole was small and hard to manage with fly lines. When the two pros left to pursue stripers I was able to position the boat just fifteen feet off the shoreline and cast down to American shad gathering above swift water. It worked very well but would not have been possible if anyone was fishing on the bank. This was either a lucky break or a puzzling sign of waning interest.


By Thursday there was finally a significant drop in flow, with the level at Little Falls down to an ideal four-and-a-half feet. Water clarity was excellent and the temperature spiked to the upper sixties. Many of the more familiar spots just out from the dock were producing for American shad like we dream about. Activity from Wednesday afternoon had been a good omen: Bailey’s guest, Rod Nelson, Board Chair for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, landed seven doubles in short order. (That's him in the photo at bottom.) So it was not a surprise when astounding numbers of shad were caught on Thursday morning. Chapter board member Sandy Burk got in on the double action, both Americans scooped up together in the landing net. My son’s double is seen above as Bailey prepares for his unique quick release, times two. Old friends Bob Smith and Rick Williams had a great time chatting and fishing, and at one point doubled up in a different way on eighteen feet of bending fly rods (photo below). Sam Zimmerman was out there and would later expound on the good size of the roes, just like he did last year. Joel Johnson picked a fine day to come with a friend; the two were last seen battling a shad as we tired of the hot weather and rowed back to the dock.


With all of the American shad hoopla, it is easy to lose sight of the hickory shad run. For those lovers of fast action, hard strikes and zany leaps, there’s news of a continued run upstream from the Cove. Reports of over a hundred fish are coming in from where the river narrows and current is strong. This happens every year late in the run, so much so that I have referred to a “second peak” more than once. We previously believed that the late arriving hickories favored this stretch of the river because water levels are typically dropping in May, but their behavior this year demonstrates that flow has nothing to do with it. For some great fun, fire up your outboard, launch your kayak or carefully find a rock along the shoreline when the tide is receding.

Last night’s thunderstorm was localized, but the effect of the runoff still lingered this morning in the form of murky water. However, by the time you read this I expect turbidity levels to be back in the good range. Even with chances for showers and storms marring the forecast, it’s a safe bet that water conditions will be fine for the weekend. After that, expected precipitation far up in the watershed could spell trouble for shad lovers. Last year, this exact period saw the greatest American shad catches of our lifetimes before a storm spoiled the fun.

As an extra incentive, you may be interested to know that schoolie stripers have arrived in great numbers and are more than willing to strike jigs and flies. Big white perch abound for the first time in many years. Yesterday, we saw a video of a needlefish squirming around in a Fletcher’s boat after hitting a shad dart. A few weeks ago a Golden Redhorse appeared at the end of my fly line. Walleyes are starting to make their annual May push. While it lasts, enjoy all that the Potomac offers to area anglers so close to home.

Mark Binsted


The National Park Service needs your help! Please review the proposed transportation upgrades for our favorite park, Fletcher's Cove. You will be amazed by some of the proposals and the promise for vast improvements to the park entrance in the years to come. View the documents and leave comments here by May 15.

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The National Capital Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders and CCA Maryland's Greater Washington Chapter are proud to present the second annual Tidal Potomac Slam fishing tournament. A multi-week event, compete for great prizes and bragging rights, while helping to support Friends of Fletcher’s Cove in its quest to restore the Cove and protect this unique urban fishing resource for generations to come.

Sponsored by District Angling, Traeger Grills, RepYourWater, Speedwell Law, Computer Showcase, and the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership , the Tidal Potomac Slam is a celebration of the arrival of Spring and all of the migratory species that return each year to our Nation’s River! So join the fun and get in on this year’s Shadness Madness!

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