July 23, 2024

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Washington DC fishing: the Complete Guide

Reading Time: 10 minutes

The allure of fishing in Washington DC is almost palpable. This is a city celebrated for its political prowess and monumental attractions. But as anglers delve deeper into the heart of the nation’s capital, they quickly discover it’s more than just a hub for politics and history. Beneath its iconic skyline and amidst daily urban life, Washington DC offers a surprisingly rich fishing experience.

The fact that DC isn’t traditionally recognized as a fishing haven only adds to its charm. Although not a part of Maryland proper, seasoned fishermen can’t help but talk about the capital when discussing Maryland’s top fishing locales. While DC treats its visitors with an array of national landmarks, it also promises an unparalleled fishing adventure – from the serene Potomac River to the mighty Chesapeake Bay a couple of hours away.

This guide will delve into all the angling wonders of Washington DC. From the capital’s prime fishing spots to the species you can expect to reel in, and much more… Let’s find out what fishing is like in the beating heart of America!

Top Washington DC Fish Species

DC hides boasts an angler’s paradise beneath its waters. Here, we’ll talk about what lurks in the Potomac, its tributaries, and the city’s idyllic ponds, along with the bay a couple of hours’ ride away. These are the stars of the show:

Striped Bass

A large group of anglers aboard a fishing charter in the Chesapeake Bay, with each holding up their Striped Bass catches, along with some more fish laid out in front of them on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Hook Mash Charter Fishing

First of all, the mighty Chesapeake Bay and portions of the Potomac are notable habitats for Striped Bass, referred to locally as “Rockfish.” Fletcher’s Cove stands out as a prominent location in the north of the city, attracting locals and visitors alike. And both kinds of anglers are well aware of how challenging it is to land a Striper.

Catching them often involves tried-and-true methods like using live bait such as eels or menhaden. But a lot of anglers opt for trolling with artificial lures, so you’re always welcome to experiment. How about trying to beat the local record of a 67 lb Striped Bass? Stories of impressive catches are often shared along the docks. Who knows, you may have the next tale to tell!


A man in sunglasses, standing on a fishing boat and holding two small Bluefish on a sunny day with a river's shoreline and a house visible behind him
Photo courtesy of Mitzi B Charters LLC

Fishing in Washington DC isn’t just about Striped Bass, though. Bluefish are also a common sight in the Potomac, notable for their agility and striking appearance. Blues are swift swimmers and aggressive hunters.

Catching Bluefish might involve using shiny spoons or popping plugs. Any local can attest to the unique way Bluefish strike, turning each fishing experience into one to remember. Using live bunker as bait often leads to some of the most intense battles.

Fish around the 18-pound mark are often seen as remarkable achievements. Yet, every angler aspires to have their own personal record.

White Perch

A view from above of a cooler box full of White Perch, caught on a freshwater fishing trip near Washington DC
Photo courtesy of Corsica Charter Company

Washington DC’s portion of the Potomac River is home to elegant White Perch, too. These gorgeous fish are known for their shimmering scales that catch the sunlight. But what’s more, they offer quite the fight for beginner anglers.

Using small jigs or the tempting live minnows often proves effective in luring White Perch. You’ll need a lot of patience and a finesse approach, especially if you’re not after the biggest catch in the world. Local talk often circles back to 2.5 pound catches, so don’t expect to lure in a giant predator. With these species, it’s about the game, rather than the size! Oh, and the taste of course

Spanish Mackerel

A man and two children aboard a fishing charter near Washington DC on a sunny day, showing off their haul of Spanish Mackerel
Photo courtesy of Reel Attitude

Where the waters of the Potomac stretch out, Spanish Mackerel make their mark. With bodies built for speed, they dazzle anglers of all skill levels with their power and grace.

DC anglers often turn to trolling with small spoons, since the fish are known for their nimbleness. Meanwhile, using Gotcha plugs has become more than just a method – it’s a game of endurance and skill.

Legend has it that landing a 9-pound Mackerel is more than possible. But ambition is paired with conservation. Before you head out, take a look at the Spanish Mackerel size and bag restrictions. In fact, this applies to all of the Washington DC fishing menu!


One shirtless and one fully-clothed man sitting on the side of a fishing charter on a sunny day and holding a large Redfish each, with some other charters visible in the distance behind them
Photo courtesy of Capt. Brian with Thomason Tradition

Deep in the waters, Black Drum and Red Drum – aka Redfish – thrive. They’ve been a part of DC’s waters for ages, symbolizing the Potomac River’s rich history. There are records of impressive catches in the nearby waters, including a 112 lb Black Drum and a 74 lb Redfish.

These species are notable for their unique sounds. They tend to produce a drumming or croaking noise, especially during the spawning season by vibrating a muscle against their swim bladder. This unique characteristic is partly why they’re called “Drums”.

Using cut bait, like shrimp or crab, has proven effective for attracting Black Drum and Redfish. However, it’s essential to understand their patterns and rhythms if you’re after a productive experience. High tides often provide the best results.


A man in a baseball cap and sunglasses sitting on a river fishing charter near Washington DC and holding a Largemouth Bass on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Osprey Fishing Charters

We’ve focused on mainly saltwater fish so far, but we’d be remiss to leave out Washington DC’s amazing Bass fishing opportunities. Near the city, tidal areas are popular for Largemouth Bass, which are impressive in size and force. Move upstream, and you’ll find agile Smallmouth Bass, providing a different fishing experience.

Be it the surprise of a Largemouth striking or the quick moves of Smallmouth, a DC Bass fishing trip is sure to impress. Sites like Rock Creek are perfect for a relaxing fishing adventure, although the exact spot you should explore depends on when you’re visiting. Seasons influence Bass’s behavior. During warmer months, they tend to stay in shallow areas, making them more active and easier to approach.

How to Go Fishing in Washington DC

Whether you’re fly fishing through the early morning mist or casting from the city’s shores, DC offers a myriad of opportunities. Let’s take a deep dive into how to gear up and fish in the capital city:

Washington DC Fly Fishing

A man in a yellow shirt, face bluff, and baseball cap, standing on a fishing boat and casting a fly fishing line on a day with sunny intervals near Washington DC
Photo courtesy of Rock On Fishing

In the heart of DC, fly fishing may seem somewhat poetic. The Potomac’s calm stretches and Rock Creek Park’s serene backdrop are perfect for a relaxing day on the water. Meanwhile, the game changes as you venture closer to the Chesapeake Bay.

The bay’s Rockfish are the coveted prize. While lighter gear is traditionally associated with freshwater fly fishing, targeting Rockfish demands more. Venturing into these waters with a 5 wt rod is a challenge best left for seasoned pros. A 7–8 wt rod, especially when handling heavier flies, promises a more productive experience.

Picking the right fly pattern is key. White Crease flies and Foam Gurglers have proven to be pretty effective time and again. Yet, when it comes to fly fishing in Washington DC, every angler is encouraged to experiment. Feel free to discover which pattern resonates with your style and the fish’s preference.

Washington DC River Fishing

A silhouette of a woman casting a fishing line into the Potomac River with Georgetown's skyline visible in the distance just after sunset

Fishing in Washington DC is mostly about mastering the Potomac River. It’s the place for legendary catches, although it can be pretty challenging. But the reward may very well be worth it.

To decode the river’s mysteries, choose the right gear. A medium-heavy rod, spanning about 7 feet, paired with a compatible spinning or baitcasting reel loaded with an 8–15 lb test line, promises agility and strength. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and soft plastics are popular choices for a mixed bag. Casting upstream and letting the lure drift with the current often yields fruitful results, whatever you’re after.

Washington DC Shore Fishing

DC’s shores are where dreams meet reality. It’s as simple as that. The mix of urban life and the vast expanse of water creates a unique fishing experience. To conquer these shores, gear tailored for distance becomes crucial. Long, medium-heavy rods ensure that every cast reaches deeper waters, while larger spinning reels loaded with 10–20 lb test lines promise durability.

The shore’s proximity doesn’t limit the variety of species. Summer evenings are made for Catfish, while migrations during spring and fall bring Striped Bass and Bluefish. Consider stocking your tackle box with swimbaits, poppers, and heavier jigs.

Washington DC Charter Fishing

A view from behind of a group of male anglers casting their lines out of the back of a fishing charter near Washington DC on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Tight Times Charters

When the call of the water is too strong, charter fishing provides the answer. Booking a trip with a local guide allows a seasoned pro to lead the way and uncover DC’s underwater secrets. If you’re interested in a Chesapeake Bay adventure or want to explore the Potomac River, it’s never a bad idea to head out with a local captain.

Why? Charter fishing in Washington DC is, first of all, convenient. You can pick a trip that suits your needs, from a family-friendly excursion to a tournament-grade adventure. Plus, DC crews almost always provide all the necessary gear, tackle, bait, and a wealth of local knowledge. You simply can’t beat that.

Where to Go Fishing in Washington DC

Washington DC, with its rich history and bustling urban landscape, may not immediately come to mind as an angler’s paradise. However, its waterways beg to differ. They’ve faced challenges before, but are teeming with life now, with a somewhat unjust reputation.

A view across a jetty towards the Chesapeake Bay and its namesake bridge just after sunset, with a dark blue sky blending into an orange hue behind the bridge in the distance

With the city’s initiatives, the water quality is improving – confirmed by the recent return of bottlenose dolphins to the Potomac. Locations like Fletcher’s Cove, Blue Plains, East Potomac Park, and the Tidal Basin are just a few highlights. That’s not to mention all these spots near the capital!

  • Potomac River. Situated right in the city’s heart, the river offers an unparalleled fishing experience. Firstly, it has some of the nation’s finest Largemouth Bass angling. But the river’s diversity doesn’t stop there. Along with Bass, anglers can pursue Walleye, Pike, and Muskies, to name a few. If you’re looking for a city-based fishing adventure without venturing far, the Potomac River should be at the top of your list.
  • Fletcher’s Cove (Fletcher’s Boathouse). A location steeped in history, this has been an angling hotspot since the 1850s. Here, you can look for Rockfish, Catfish, and even some freshwater species. As a bonus, it offers one of the East Coast’s best Shad fishing opportunities. Though it sits in the heart of DC, the Cove has a feel of the wilderness about it, making it an excellent escape for urban dwellers.
  • Anacostia River. Despite its troubled past marred by pollution and neglect, the Anacostia River has witnessed a renaissance. Today, it’s home to various species, including Largemouth Bass, Perch, Carp, and the elusive Northern Snakehead. Fishing here requires understanding tides and sunlight. It’s ideal for catch and release, except for the invasive Northern Snakehead.
  • Chesapeake Bay. A bit farther from the city center, the Chesapeake Bay stands as America’s largest estuary. It’s a must-visit for anglers keen on catching Rockfish. Additionally, the Bay teems with species like Red Drum, Speckled Trout, and Tautog. While it may require some travel, the rewards are worth the effort.
  • Rock Creek. Originating north of Rockville, Rock Creek flows through various neighborhoods before meeting the Potomac. It offers a diverse fishing experience, suitable for spinning and fly fishing. Its clear waters, strong currents, and varied beds make it a gem for anglers. Whether you’re in the mood for Bass or Catfish, this spot won’t disappoint.

When To Go Fishing in Washington DC

While fishing in Washington DC, timing is everything. Species and spots might vary but the promise of a good catch and the thrill of the hunt remain constant – you just need to know where to look.

A view of the Potomac River in Fletcher's Cove, Washington DC, in winter, with the water flowing between some ice on a crisp morning

DC’s waters begin to teem with activity in spring. The Potomac River and Rock Creek warm up, as Shad make their annual migration upstream. As you head into late spring, don’t miss out on Largemouth Bass, who are especially active around submerged structures in the Anacostia River.

With the capital bathed in warm sunlight, summer is all about chasing Catfish in the Potomac and spending your evenings seeking out Walleye near Fletcher’s Cove. Plus, Striped Bass school and feed aggressively in the Chesapeake Bay.

Come fall, and every angler’s attention switches to Smallmouth Bass in Rock Creek and Musky in the deeper parts of the Potomac River. Fall is also the season to witness the spectacular migration of Striped Bass in the Chesapeake – a phenomenon not to be missed.

Finally, winter allows the brave-hearted to try their luck with Northern Pike in the Potomac or chase Yellow Perch in the quieter areas of Anacostia Park.

Rules And Regulations

Navigating the waters of Washington DC isn’t just about finding the right spot to wet a line. It’s also about respecting certain regulations. Before you embark on your angling adventure, here are the essentials to remember:

  • Fishing license. If you’re 16 or older, you’re required to have a valid fishing license with you whenever you’re fishing. You can easily obtain one via the DOEE’s website.
  • Bag and size limits. To prevent overfishing, the District has specific regulations on the size and number of certain fish species anglers can keep.
  • Closed and open seasons. Whenever the DOEE announces the Striped Bass season, make sure to mark your calendars! Don’t forget about the bag and size limits, though, and always consult with your guide.

Fishing in Washington DC: A Capital Catch Guaranteed!

A view across the Potomac towards the Washington Monument on the left of the image and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the right on the image just after sunset on a clear night

From the Potomac through stealthy pursuits in Rock Creek, and all the way to the timeless charm of Chesapeake Bay, fishing in Washington DC is simply amazing. The silhouettes of monuments and memorials define the city’s skyline, while its waters tell a different tale. After all, in a city of stories, why not reel in a few of your own?

Have you ever been fishing in Washington DC? What did you catch in the country’s capital city? Let us know in the comments below!

The post Washington DC Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Lisa
Title: Washington DC Fishing: The Complete Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/washington-dc-fishing/
Published Date: Thu, 26 Oct 2023 11:15:52 +0000

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