Most often thought of as a tourist destination, most people are shocked to learn about the vast fishing opportunities presented in the waters of the District of Columbia. Fishing alongside the various monuments is about as close to urban fishing as one can get. However, there is no shortage of monster fish lurking around the Capital, from invasive jumbo blue catfish and snakeheads to stripers, smallmouth, and largemouth bass. Let’s check out the various spots, species they hold, and how to target each.

fishing in washington dc
The author holds up a few (ahem) monumental catches.

Fishing the Tidal Basin

This manmade harbor is located right in the heart of the District, nestled amongst the National Mall and the Jefferson Memorial. In the spring and summer months anglers have the opportunity to catch just about every species of fish that swims in the Potomac River in the tidal basin including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striper, crappie, channel catfish, blue catfish, carp, gar, snakehead, and others. Since the Tidal Basin is manmade there is not a ton of structure except for the concrete edge and the openings connecting the basin to the main river. It is best to try and pick a species to target and stick to it so you don’t get sidetracked. When it comes to largemouth and smallmouth, they hang close to the edge waiting for schools of shad and other baitfish to swim along the wall. Therefore, a hot tactic for targeting them is trolling the edge by walking along the wall with a crankbait.

Fishing near the outflow as the tide is rising and the water is flowing into the basin will be a good move. Cast into the ripping water with jerkbaits, soft plastic swimbaits, and crankbaits for bass, stripers, and the occasional gar or snakehead. These two prehistoric fish will make it known that they are around because both snakehead and gar gulp air at the surface, giving away their location. Preferred methods for catching the breaching gar are sight casting with jerkbaits or fishing cut bait under a bobber with a small hook (once they grab the bait open your bail and let them run for quite a while before setting the hook). The urban snakeheads are very different from your typical swamp and vegetation-dwelling snakeheads; these fish are picky and a lot trickier to entice with a lure. The best method is fishing minnows or live bluegill under a bobber or on the bottom at the outflow.

Fishing pack bait (a mix of oatmeal panko breadcrumbs, and corn) on an inline feeder with a hair rig and fake corn or boilies will produce monster carp in the Basin. Set a spread with a few rods in different directions near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in some ground rod holders and stand by, because the bites will come before you know it. Tip: make the packbait into a ball and throw some out as chum near where you are casting.

The last species in the tidal basin to touch on is catfish. Toss out some cut bait on a big circle hook. Lob it out as far as you can, and these bottom dwellers will make quick work of your bait and provide a good fight.

washington dc fishing map
These hot fishing spots in Washington, DC, will produce a number of different angling adventures.

Fishing the Georgetown Waterfront

One of the most accessible fishing spots in DC, the waterfront is a great place to take kids fishing for some guaranteed catfish action. The waterfront is within casting distance of the channel, providing shore-based anglers access to deeper water at the drop off. Catching 50- to 60-pound blue catfish here is not uncommon! Fish cut bait such as bluegill, shad, menhaden, American eel, or white perch on the bottom, on 4/0 to 10/0 circle hooks with three- to six-ounce weights… and don’t wander too far from your rods.

Fishing Haines Point

Otherwise known as East Potomac Park, Haines point is another convenient urban fishing spot. Free parking and the ability to fish right by your car by parking anywhere along the three-mile stretch makes for another great spot for catfish and carp, and also white perch in the warmer months. Fish the same baits and tactics mentioned above for catfish and carp here.

While they are not directly downtown, a few more notable spots within close range of downtown are the C&O canal, Four Mile Run, Fletcher’s Cove, and Chain Bridge. Any of the pull-off areas along Canal Road provide access to the various canal locks, which contain largemouth, snakehead, and carp. The largemouth and snakehead can be caught on your standard bass and snakehead lures including soft plastic swimbaits, chatterbaits, and topwaters. The C&O also provides a unique opportunity for anglers to fly fish for carp, by sight casting flies that mimic berries and insects. Four Mile Run is just a short drive from DC, not too far from the Pentagon. There is a warm water discharge making this spot a great place to target bass in the winter months as they stack up here. Lastly, Fletchers Cove and Chain bridge, both located right on the outskirts of DC on the edge of the tidal zone, provide some amazing catfish fishing. Big blue, channel, and flathead catfish frequent the area’s deep holes and turbulent waters.

Pay attention to the tide in tidal areas and look at bathymetric maps prior to fishing in order to find deep holes and drop offs. Familiarizing yourself with the bottom contours and topography will help find productive areas to catch catfish amongst these spots. And don’t forget, you will need a Washington DC fishing license.

Check out the articles Top 10 Potomac River Hot Spots and Shoreline Fishing For Trophy Blue Catfish On The Potomac for more on targeting fish in and around Washington, DC!

-By Ian Rubin