WASHINGTON -- I knew he was my kind of guy when I climbed aboard his wooden boat. Securely tied in a yellow nylon rope at the bow was a big boulder.
It was his anchor. Why use a real one and challenge the rocky bottom of the Potomac, which claims them by the hundreds? That's country reasoning; my kind of thinking.
No outboard at the stern, but there was a pair of oars. He grabbed both and rowed into the Potomac. I couldn't recall the last time I rode a rowboat that lived up to its name.
The current was swift, but at the "controls" was a river rat with strong arms. He crossed the river, worked downstream, dropped the anchor and after a few minutes of no action he hauled the heavy boulder aboard and headed toward Chain Bridge a half-mile upriver.
"I've got a spot there where things should be better," he said as he turned to watch the shallows for rocks between broad strokes of the oars.
Meet Joe Fletcher, a fourth generation descendant of the Fletchers who opened Fletcher's Landing 134 years ago. Our target was white perch, and the day was one in which a fish fry was scheduled for scores of fishing regulars in honor of his late father Julius.
We had no fancy electronics, but we had a reliable fishfinder. Joe Fletcher.
"We should be over a ledge," he said. "It's not very deep, but it drops off to maybe 40 feet."
Soon as I dropped a bait, I had a perch; the next time, two, and both from the high side of the drop. Fletcher fished the deep side for catfish and found it slow. But he was persistent.
My catching was steady with bloodworms and minnows, but Fletcher said it should have been faster. "These perch bite and then they don't, and they keep moving; you've got to be where they are."
I had no complaints. I took 15 in an hour, then made a last cast with a Sassy Shad to get a decent crappie.
Fletcher took a couple small perch, and had a big strike and a short fight before it threw the hook. At first he thought it was a catfish, then decided it might have been a rockfish, which would have had to have been released anyhow.
Along the rocky banks were scores of anglers -- and this was in midweek. Most sought catfish and perch. "April is the time for perch," said Fletcher as he guided us between boats.
He apologized for the catch, so maybe good perch'n means more than 15 in an hour. "I was tempted to try for shad; they're due," he said, "and in the Potomac you can keep them."
I could see Chain Bridge above the trees as we cut back toward the landing past a fellow casting for shad. "Chain Bridge got its name because it used to hang from chains," Fletcher said.
That angler got no shad, but a few others did; also a few herring. "Things get busy when the shad arrive, but summer business is slow," Fletcher said.
At the docks, Bob Wilson of Alexandria showed us a 12-inch white perch of 1 1/2 pounds taken on a minnow near where we had fished; nice but not as big as the 14 1/2 -incher also taken on a minnow by Danny Ward in the spring of 1987 and now hanging on the wall of the bait shop.
* Location: On the Potomac within Washington Beltway. From Baltimore go south on Route 95, go west on Washington Beltway to exit 40 at Clara Barton Parkway, go east about 5 miles, and shortly after seeing Chain Bridge to your right, you come to the marked entrance. It indicates no right turn allowed so pull to the right and back in, turn around and proceed to the docks. Ample parking. Good family area. Phone 1-202-244-0461.
* Accommodations: Canoe, boat (no motors) and for the C&O trail, bicycle rentals. Bait, lures, fast food and soft drinks, ample parking and large shady grove for lunch.
* Fish: Perch, catfish, bass, crappies, carp, herring, shad and maybe walleyes, from both shore and boat.
* License: A non-resident District of Columbia fishing license is required. $8.50 for the season: $3 for 14 days.