Out Here — Fishing the Most Dangerous Current on the East Coast

It takes a little bit of crazy to fish this part of the Potomac. At a stretch of river about 80 feet wide, perched gingerly on some rocks, I cast where I have best access to the deep channel. Spinning shad darts from the rocks and down into the depths, I can hear the late rush-hour traffic whipping by on Chain Bridge, the Northernmost spot my license will let me fish. I’m nestled right up against the fishing boundary, alone as thousands of people pass by on their way home from work in the District.

Here the river reaches its narrowest point since Great Falls. 13,400 cubic feet of water rush by each second, but the surface looks calm. Just a month ago, a woman disappeared from here, washed away by the river. Most people think she slipped while hiking. I’ve set my front foot hard against a rock to help prevent that eventuality, but admittedly my four year old Keen sandals aren’t providing the best grip. Still, the book on this part of the river says I’ve got to drop the lure into the channel to get at the Smallmouth, so it’s a two-handed whipping cast for me.

Photo from Alan Kotok on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/runneralan/4612236985

I’ve done stupider things. I think. This probably ranks right up there with the time I tried to repair the hinges on my third floor window. It didn’t occur to me that it may be dangerous until I was standing on the sill, screwdriver in hand, loosening the hinge of the pane that I was holding on to for stability. Actually, it didn’t even occur to me then. It wasn’t lost on my fiance when she came back into the room though. She yanked me right back inside. My window still doesn’t close right.

She’d probably yank me right off these rocks too, if she knew I was here. I don’t think I’d stay off though. That was just a window, these are fish.

The possibility of fish does funny things to a man. It’ll make him spend thousands on equipment, wake up at five in the morning, ride a squeaky bicycle through deep, marshy woods, and even teeter within inches of his life. It may have the same effect on women too, but I’m yet to see one do something about as dumb as I am.

Still, I’m here, whipping a small black and white lure into the current, letting it work downstream with a few little tugs and zips to keep it lifelike, then pulling it back in to repeat. In two hours I’ve landed about six smallmouths and a hickory shad, all released back into the water. They were all good fighting fish and a pleasure to pull in. Don’t worry, when I’m reeling I step back up onto the bank a few feet behind me. I’m not as stupid as I seem. Probably.

When I’m here, all the world just melts away. Though ten thousand people are driving by, they don’t even know I’m there. Back in the real world I’ve got a wedding to plan (in two months and barely started), jobs to apply to, grad school studying to do, and med school admissions decisions to fret over. Here there’s nothing like that. Here I focus only on the line, the cast, and the fish. Back there, my problems aren’t so easy to deal with. They’re long processes, multiple steps, each one having to be executed right, but here, all I have to do is not fall in.

I’m in a world where the toughest thing I have to do is whip a 1/4 ounce lure out into a river without losing my footing. As long as I keep catching smallies and shad I’ll be okay. The only concern I have out here is that a big channel catfish will take a liking to my dart and yank me right out into the river with him. There’re thirty and forty pounders out there, just waiting to tug a poor fisherman out into the current.

That’s why I use 8 pound test line. And if I do hook onto something huge out there and he snaps it off, all I have to do is tie on another leader and I’m back in business. So as you fly by on your way to a meeting, soccer practice, or to get dinner on the table, I’ll be here, munching a Snicker’s bar and throwing shad darts into the current. At least until the tide comes in and my rock goes underwater. ’Til then, I’ll be out here.