As April begins to roll in and around our nation's capital, we're reminded that we're entering a new season. Spring reminds us all that life and beauty renews itself each year in the form of dogwood and cherry blossoms, newly sprouting leaves and green grass, and the arrival of daylight savings time and the start of longer days and increasingly shorter nights. The robin calling just before daybreak, the warm, moist breeze wafting in from the river, and cool mornings that gradually give way to warmer afternoons.
And so it is for the fly fisherman, the winter doldrums long gone and fly tying sessions inside a warm home repeatedly making us optimistic with anticipation of wanderlust (with fishing rod in hand, of course) and that the first visitors of the spring months arrive earlier and stay just a little longer to squeeze out those extra unplanned fishing days. It is the start of the fishing season, a time when our expectations for the coming months keeps us charged and ready for what we’d like to think will be the best year yet. Hope springs eternal for the fly fisherman chomping at the bit.
Each year, what seems like an endless volume of hickory and American shad migrate up the Potomac to reach ancestral spawning grounds in the hopes of perpetuating the species. Shad have been called the founding fish for good reason. The arrival each year was a blessing and taken advantage of by the local Native Americans and early colonists. It’s been said that George Washington was indeed a shad fisherman in the spring and that dried shad had saved his troops from starvation at Valley Forge. Local fly fishermen also pursue the shad run. Generally arriving in early April, the shad stack up inside Fletcher’s Cove during moving tides, staging their continued progress upriver to spawn. Seasoned shad fishermen will row out and tempt them when the run is at it’s peak with colorful flies adorned with weight, color, and flash in the hopes that they will feel the electricity connecting the shad and angler. It is a social fishing scene, one that most local anglers hold dear.
Spring also is endeared in the trout fisherman’s heart as well. Wild brook trout of Shenandoah National Park begin feeding in earnest as the spring insects start hatching. Tiny stoneflies, midges, and early season mayflies bring trout to the surface looking for a meal, and fly fisherman are more than willing to educate these beautiful, colorful, and precious native fish often. Our shop, the Urban Angler is also looking forward to a new, productive, and prosperous season. After closing our Arlington shop last February, we relocated to a new shop in Old Town Alexandria. Looking forward, we anticipate a new season of growth and enjoyment in helping our customers learn, experience, and get the most out of our favorite sport and pastime, and continue to be your source for everything fly fishing.
Shenandoah brook trout fishing in the spring can be very rewarding. Fish eager to pounce on a lazily floating dry fly will not be amazingly selective. Any attractor-style pattern will do. I tend to bring a minimal selection of flies to the river when I fish the park. Adams parachute, sulphur parachute, rusty spinner, and either ant or beetle patterns all in a size #16 work effectively. If the fish are wary and won’t come to the surface, the same size pheasant tail, hare’s ear, caddis larva, or small wooly bugger patterns will do the trick. 7.5’-8’ 2 or 3-weight rods are ideal.
Please remember that brook trout live in reeds throughout the winter and will emerge in the spring. Staying out of the water and watching where you step if you must get wet are just as important as safe fish handling techniques.
Potomac River shad fishing normally starts around the second week of April, but as of this writing there have already been a few early fish caught. Expect to see the run start by the first week in April. The name of the shad game is to get down to the depth the fish are holding. Fast sinking fly lines in either 200-250 grains on 6 or 7-weight rods are the ticket. Parking your boat near a current seam and swinging your fly into the seam and vary the retrieve for best results. Steele’s shad fly is the choice pattern for both hickory and American shad throughout the run. A red conehead, pearl white body, and tail with some flash is a pattern that is said to have originated back to the year after the Civil War.