Cover Story

Drop A Line In Virginia's Favorite Fishing Holes

Photos and Story by Emily Grey, Contributing Writer


Whether your prefer casting from a pier or wading in after your quarry, Virginia offers a myriad of opportunities for anglers.

Virginia offers a wide variety of fishing opportunities and a temperate climate that allows year-round participation in one of the nation’s most popular sports.

Following is a review of some of the state’s favorite fishing holes.

Criteria for inclusion in this list are accessibility, trophy species, fish diversity, environmental safety, and geographical balance. Neighboring creeks, tributaries, inlets, and private ponds may yield a terrific bounty.

 Remember, a license is now required to fish in saltwater — the ocean in addition to the bay — and freshwater. Special permits and fees are required in certain areas for trout and other stocked fish.

The name of the game is fun. So, grab a rod, bait, lunchbox, cooler, fishing license, and lucky cap, tee-shirt or vest, and head for the place where reels sing.


Saltwater Fishing

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

1. Confluence: Chesapeake Bay/Atlantic Ocean

North America’s largest and most productive estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, merges with the ocean and tidal rivers to produce a mecca of fish-spawning and nursery sites. Some of the world’s finest fishing is found here.

On a typical summer day, anglers try their luck on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel’s 625-foot-long fishing pier on Gull Island. This southernmost pull-off with a restaurant and gift shop is 3.5 miles from the Virginia Beach mainland. Naval and ocean-going vessels pass through this renown shipping lane.

Wrecks, 5,200 pilings, and stone riprap afford excellent cover for bluefish, gray trout, and croaker. Spring ushers black drum, summer brings spot, cobia, and red drum, and fall offers rockfish and flounder. 

Wachapreague Marina

Additional ramps are located at Cape Charles and Kiptopeke State Park on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach and the Northern Neck.


2. Intracoastal Waterway/Atlantic Ocean   

Sheltered by the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s unspoiled barrier islands, the Intracoastal Waterway (running 1,550 miles from Boston to Florida Bay) and inlets serve as migratory routes for many fish. Perch, shark, speckled trout, eel, and Spanish mackerel are a few examples of what may be hooked off Virginia’s coast. 

Well-known spots off Buoy #10 near Wachapreague, the world’s flounder capital, include Concrete Pipe Stacks, Igloos, and Parramore Reef. Look for sea bass in spring and fall and tautog in winter.

Hardy souls venture into the Atlantic at 21 or 26 Mile Hill or beyond where giant keepers await. Blue and white marlin, king mackerel, dolphin (fish), wahoo, bluefin tuna, and yellowfin tuna (at Lumpy Bottom), will test the strength of lines and grit of a fisherman or woman.

Nottoway River

The Wachapreague Marina and Restaurant furnishes gear, bait, skiff rentals, and tasty meals. Other public launch sites are located in Oyster, Red Bank, Willis Wharf, and Chincoteague.

Brackish and Freshwater Fishing

Brackish, fresh-tidal and non-tidal waters present different angling opportunities. Virginia’s rivers, ponds and lakes afford hours of angling delight and rewards.


3. James River

Brook Trout

From the confluence of the Cowpasture and Jackson rivers downstream to Richmond, the James offers a diverse fishery. Anglers find a bounty of smallmouth bass, rock bass and redbreast sunfish above Richmond. Largemouth bass inhabit the river below the fall line at Richmond.

Some of Virginia’s best jumbo blue and flathead catfish are found in the lower (tidal) James. Watch for black crappie in creeks and main stem oxbows upstream of Hopewell. In spring, anadromous striped bass (rockfish) are caught near the I-95 Bridge at Richmond. In fall, try the James River Bridge, Monitor-Merrimac Bridge, and around the “mothball fleet.” A restoration program for American shad is under way on this lovely watercourse.

Public access in the tidal James is available at Ancarrow Landing (downstream of I-95 in Richmond), Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Dutch Gap in Chesterfield County, and Lawnes Creek Landing in Surry County.

4. Rappahannock River

This river flows about 184 miles from its origin in Fauquier County’s Chester Gap to the Chesapeake Bay. The initial 62 miles from the headwaters to Fredericksburg’s Mayfield Bridge are designated a state scenic river.

Although the Rappahannock currently holds the state record for channel catfish, blue catfish and white catfish also thrive here. Based on electro-fishing samples, the best chances for blue catfish are a few miles from Leedstown downstream to Fredericksburg. Largemouth bass, bluegills, yellow perch, crappie, and white perch are also plentiful. Shad and herring are available in spring.

Mott’s Landing (Route 618) in Spotsylvania County offers a canoe/jon-boat slide while Tappahannock’s Hoskin’s Creek and the City of Fredericksburg have boat ramps. Barrier-free sites include Kelly’s Ford (Route 672 off Route 651) in Culpeper County and Mill Creek, Mill Stone, and Saluda in Middlesex County. 

5. Lake Anna

Impounded in 1972 to furnish cooling water for the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, Lake Anna is located in Louisa, Orange, and Spotsylvania counties. Submerged brush-and-cinderblock shelters benefit an assortment of fish.

Striped bass, largemouth bass and black crappie are found along boat docks and bridges. Walleye inhabit drop-offs in the Pamunkey River arm above Terry’s Run from February through April. White perch in winter, bluegill, and channel catfish are also sought.

Nine marinas, one public boat ramp, several campgrounds, motels, and Lake Anna State Park provide access to the 9,600-acre lake. A handicapped-accessible catwalk for anglers is available at Dike #3 on Route 622.


6. Shenandoah River, South Fork

Shenandoah River

This fork begins at the confluence of the North and South rivers near Port Republic and flows north 97 miles to meet the North Fork Shenandoah at Front Royal. Largemouth bass fishing is excellent. Opportunities are also favorable for finding smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, rock bass, and muskellunge. 

Portions of the river are contaminated. Keep an eye out for signs posted along the river notifying anglers of contaminants.


7. Lake Moomaw

In Bath and Alleghany counties, this picturesque 2,530-acre flood-control reservoir was completed in 1981 when the Gathright Dam closed. The result is 43 miles of shoreline with a 12-mile backup into the Jackson River.

Lake Moomaw 

March, April, October and early November offer the best angling. Summer night fishing in the shallows also yields positive results. McConaughy-strain rainbow trout, crappie, channel catfish, chain pickerel, bluegills, redear sunfish, yellow perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass provide wonderful sport in this lake. A cold layer, 15 feet below the surface, teems with stocked rainbow, brook, and brown trout.

Boat ramps are available at Coles Mountain and Fortney Branch. A handicapped-accessible fishing pier is located at Bolar Flats on the lake’s northern end.

8. Nottoway River

Originating in Nottoway County, this minimally developed scenic river evolves into the Chowan in North Carolina. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, catfish, bluegills, yellow perch, black crappie, and redbreast sunfish abound. Trophy redear sunfish are found in Southampton County. Shad and herring fishing is good March through May.

Rare in other Virginia rivers, the Roanoke bass thrives in the Nottoway. Generally, they are found in the river’s upper reaches in summer and further downstream in winter. Gar and bowfins also inhabit the lower portions of the river.

Public ramps include Hercules Landing, Carey’s Bridge, Peter’s Bridge, and Route 258 near Riverdale. In summer, anglers can wade the shallows upstream of Courtland.

 Buggs Island Lake

9. Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Reservoir)  

Along the central Virginia-North Carolina line, this 48,900-acre lake offers a diverse warm-water fishery.

Largemouth bass, crappie, blue catfish, flathead catfish, striped bass and white bass are popular at Buggs Island. In fall and winter, the most promising catfishing area is from Goat Island to the Clarksville Bridge. February to April is the time to fish for crappie in Bluestone, Buffalo, Butcher, and Grassy creeks.

Virginia fishing licenses are legal throughout the lake. The North Bend Park pier is designed for disabled anglers. Another convenient access and camping area is Occoneechee State Park. For information on water levels, contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (434) 738-6371.

10. Smith River 

Cool-water discharges from Philpott Dam  create 20 miles of some of Virginia’s best trout fishing downstream to Martinsville. October to May (stocking season) offers a rainbow trout bounty. From Town Creek downstream to Bassett, wild brown trout are caught year-round.

Experts recommend bait fishing for rainbow trout and catching browns on the fly. Walking and wading are the most effective fishing techniques. Motels in Martinsville and cabins and camping at Fairystone State Park are convenient.

Call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (541) 629-2432 for Philpott’s weekly power-generation schedule.

11. New River

New River

This ancient, surprisingly clear waterway rises near Boone, N.C., and reaches the West Virginia line 160 miles later. State records have been set here for muskellunge and smallmouth bass. Please return muskies with transmitters to the river.

Claytor Lake to Big Falls is excellent for trophy largemouth bass. Flathead catfish, channel catfish and sunfish such as redbreasts, bluegill, and rock bass are plentiful in many locations. March and April are good times to find walleyes around Allisonia.

Austinville, Byllesby, and Pembroke are among the many sites with boat ramps. Cabins are available at Claytor Lake State Park, camping at New River State Park, and lodging in Wytheville, Galax, and other nearby towns.


12. Holston River, South Fork

Holston River

This section begins in Smyth County near Sugar Grove. Walleye, which spawn in South Holston Lake, are caught near Alvaredo. From early February through May, this species is often spotted in the river above the lake and at Damascus. A white bass spawning run also comes from the lake.

Trophy rainbow and brown trout are available year-round on a catch-and-release basis within the VDGIF Buller Fish Cultural Station. Check special regulations for the upper and lower portions of this fork. Virginia Creeper Fly Fishing at (276) 628-3826 in Abingdon provides helpful information.

Access is also available at Avens (South on Route 75 and left on Route 672) near Abingdon. Camp in Jefferson National Forest or stay in motels in Marion or cabins in Hungry Mother State Park.

For fishing regulations, access, and other facts,



Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

4010 West Broad St.

Richmond, VA 23230-1104

(804) 367-1000


Virginia Marine Resources Commission

2600 Washington Ave.

Newport News, VA 23607

(800) 541-4646 • (757) 247-2200



Virginia Department of Health’s Fish Advisories





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