Virginia Fishing: An Angler’s Guide
Apr 21, 2021 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Thousands of miles of Trout streams, the lower Chesapeake Bay, and access to the Atlantic – Virginia is an angler’s paradise. Where else could you hook into Tuna one day and Brook Trout the next? A Virginia fishing trip can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. And we can guarantee that whatever you choose, you’ll enjoy.

A river works its way through the rocks in rural Virginia

In this guide, we’ll cover some of the top species you can target, how to get your hands on them, and some of the top spots, among much more. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be ready to grab your rod and reel to discover it all for yourself.

With such a diversity of fisheries on offer, it’s no surprise that there’s a wealth of different fish to target. Wherever you are in this historic state, you’re not far from a prized creature. We’ve split up the following section into freshwater and saltwater sections to make things easier for you. And hopefully, you’ll agree that the bite is good all over.

Virginia Freshwater Fish

Trout 

A man holds a Brown Trout on board a vessel with the river behind him

If river fishing and getting lost in the wilderness is your thing, then Trout fishing in Virginia is right up your street. These sneaky critters call the remote, shallow waterways home, and they promise to make you work hard to get them. You can try a multitude of methods to entice their bite. Go fly fishing in the streams or set up camp for the day and use conventional gear. Even kayaks and charter boats are available to hire to explore these waters.

Hit the west of the state and productive bodies of water like the Little River are overflowing with these exciting fish, while there’s also plenty of action in the north and center of Virginia. Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout are all possible catches, so there’s no end to the fun in store. And, they’re available to catch year-round. Winter, spring, summer, and fall all offer top action, depending on where you head.

Bass

An angler holds a Largemouth Bass caught freshwater fishing in Virginia

If there’s freshwater to be fished, Bass fishing is almost a must. But few states can offer the riches of Bass that you can find in Virginia. Largemouth and Smallmouth are a given in the lakes and remote rivers. But it’s not just Black Bass, here. The real prize comes in the form of Striped Bass. From the Chesapeake Bay, head upstream, and you could find them in lakes and rivers across the state.

Pretty much all of the lakes in the state offer great Largemouth and Smallmouth action, but Smith Mountain Lake is home to the record freshwater Striped Bass in the state. Measuring over a whopping 45 inches, it’s a feat you may not match. But don’t worry, anglers here stull regularly land Stripers measuring over 30 inches, along with their Largemouth and Smallmouth cousins.

And More!

An angler holds a freshwater fish caught in the river while kayak fishing

We’d be here all day if we went through all the productive fish on offer in Virginia’s rivers and lakes. However, the best of the rest just prove that there’s something on offer for all kinds of anglers when they visit. There are plenty of species biting year-round, and anyone can get their hands on something suitable.

Beginners and children can take advantage of the productive Panfish action in lakes across the state. Crappie and Perch are family favorites, and are sure to see you fill the freezer. If you’re in the rivers, then monster Catfish can provide a test of strength for serious anglers. Meanwhile, every avid angler knows the fighting quality of Walleye, so it’ll come as no surprise to find the deeper waters and lakes where they hide offering some incredible action!

Virginia Saltwater Fish

Striped Bass

A young girl holds a large Striped Bass caught while fishing in Virginia

If you thought fishing for these beauties in freshwater was exciting, just wait until you find out what’s in store in saltwater. The Chesapeake Bay is one of the world’s greatest Striped Bass fisheries. These creatures – called Rockfish locally – are the kings of the bay, and come in all shapes and sizes.

They’re always hungry, so whenever you go fishing, there’s a good chance you can land one. And, you can find them all over. They’ll take to any bait, so try fly fishing from shore, explore the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and bottom fish, or troll the open waters towards the Atlantic. Whatever Virginia fishing adventure you find yourself on, you’ll most likely be going for a Striped Bass.

Flounder

A family hold their Flounder caught while fishing in Virginia

Wherever you find Flounder, it’s pretty high up on the list of fish you’ll want to catch. Not necessarily for their game qualities (although they are a great introductory fish for newbies), but for their meat. These delicious Flatfish are highly-prized, and Virginia’s fishing grounds are no exception.

You’ll find these not-so-pretty creatures hunting the inshore seabed for their food. That means you’ll want to try sinking your bait to the bottom of shallow waters. This can be done from shore, by wading, from a pier, or on a boat. If you’re casting in the shallows during summer, a Flounder is sure to be on the menu.

Cobia

An angler holds a large Cobia on a Virginia fishing boat

There are few places in the world where Cobia some closer to shore than Virginia. When the season gets going, these migratory creatures come right into the Chesapeake Bay, making for a prized catch for anglers of all kinds. These beauties swim in schools, so if you find one, you’ll find many. So get ready for a Cobia-fishing marathon for which you’ll need all your strength.

Known for their game and meat qualities, these are true all-around fish. However, because of this, they’re at risk of being overfished, and Virginia has set itself the aim of reducing Cobia fishing by 42%. Don’t worry, though, the limit of one fish per person, or two per vessel, will yield plenty of meat for you to enjoy after a solid workout with a rod and reel. 

Tuna

A group of anglers hold a Yellowfin Tuna each after returning to the dock in Rudee's Inlet, VA

Heading a little further beyond the bay, and Tuna is the name of the game. Yellowfin, Bigeye, and monster Bluefin varieties are all possible on a trip to the Atlantic, and it’s something you don’t want to miss out on. We said that Cobia is an all-around creature, but Tuna is a different kettle of fish altogether (pun intended)! They grow to incredible sizes, put up an immense battle, and their meat needs no introduction.

You’ll need to hire a Virginia fishing charter to get your hands on these beauties, but there are plenty of guides ready to take you out. Spend upwards of a full day on the water, trolling to entice the bite of these monsters, before entering battle. They mostly come by in summer, so you’ll get the benefit of calmer seas and better weather, too.

And More!

A man and two women hold a large Redfish aboard a fishing boat

Those are just our top picks. We’d need an entire encyclopedia to get through all the fish you can catch while fishing in Virginia! Inshore, you can find Redfish, Black Drum, Spotted Seatrout, Tautog, and Spanish Mackerel. Meanwhile, around the structures, you’ll find Weakfish, Triggerfish, Seabass, Tautog, and more.

However, if deep sea fishing in Virginia is what you want, there’s a whole ocean of fish waiting to be caught. Mahi Mahi and Wahoo add to the delicious Tuna, as you look to fill the freezer. And Marlin and Sharks are out there for those of you looking to push your strength to the limit. Speaking of limits, there really is no end to the fun you can have!

How to Go Fishing in Virginia

After finding out what you can catch, the next thing you’ll want to know is how to go about landing your target fish. Fortunately, Virginia has realized its potential as a top fishing destination. Wherever you are in the state, you’re not far from some top angling, and there are plenty of facilities to help you out. Here’s our pick of how to get your fish on in VA.

Virginia Fly Fishing

An angler casts on the fly in the Potomac River

Few things are as good as fly fishing in Virginia – especially for solo anglers. Whether in the remote freshwater streams or productive lakes, near the shallows inshore, or even out on the bay, fly fishing can be particularly effective. It’s also possible year-round, so whenever you come, bring your fly rod.

Over 2,900 miles of Trout streams are on offer for freshwater enthusiasts, and light gear will do the trick when tackling Brookies and Brownies. Such tackle will also do the job in the shallow saltwater, when targeting Spotted Seatrout, Redfish, and more. However, when out on the Chesapeake Bay and going for those monster Rockfish, you’ll want a 20 wt rod to make sure you don’t harm the fish.

Virginia Kayak Fishing

An angler on a kayak looks for his prey on one of the rivers leading to the Chesapeake Bay

With such a range of calm waters on offer in Virginia, kayak fishing can be just as effective as casting from shore – and sometimes even more fun. In fact, in the rocky streams in the north and west of the state, a kayak may be your best mode of transport! And they’re also effective in the lakes, brackish creeks, and out on the Chesapeake Bay.

You’ll want to make sure you’ve got the patience and strength to maneuver a kayak and a rod and reel, mind you. These vessels can capsize pretty easily if you don’t watch out. But that just adds to the fun! Creep up close to your target fish and cast your line from a sitting position. Anything from Largemouth to Striped Bass could be on the end of your line.

Virginia Pier Fishing 

A view of a fishing pier on a river in Virginia

Any serious angling destination makes the most of it, and a fishing pier is one way of announcing to the world that your fishery is open for business. Virginia has spent enormously to create purpose-built structures for anglers to cast from. Wherever you are in the Chesapeake Bay, and even facing the Atlantic, you won’t be far from one.

Piers stretch out up to a few thousand feet out onto the water, giving you access to the deeper spots otherwise only reachable by boat. These structures also develop plenty of nutrients that attract bait fish and their predators, so you’ll be in for a fishing frenzy. Bring plenty of cooler space, as you’re sure to fill up!

Virginia Charter Fishing

A group of anglers head out to sea aboard a charter in Virginia

To get the most out of Virginia’s fishing grounds, however, you’ll want a charter. They come in all shapes and sizes, and can take you to the freshwater or saltwater honey holes. Of course, if you want to go offshore, you’ll need to head out aboard a boat. But they’re also just as effective in getting you to the sweet spots on the bay, lakes, and rivers.

There are many reasons to choose a charter for your Virginia fishing adventure. You’ll have the help of an experienced captain. You can cover more ground, which, if the fish aren’t biting in a certain spot, gives you a huge advantage. And all the gear will be provided! You can also try a range of techniques, including trolling on larger vessels. Settle in for a productive day out that’s unrivaled on shore.

Virginia Fishing Spots

A young angler stands alone near a lake in Virginia

This state is a true angler’s paradise, so narrowing down a list of top fishing spots wasn’t easy. The good news is that, wherever you go, you won’t be disappointed. Head near any of our picked spots and you may find a hidden gem.

  • Virginia Beach: Away from the pier, VB as a whole is an oasis for anglers. It boasts an incredible charter fleet that’s your gateway to the Atlantic!
  • Virginia Beach Fishing Pier: There are few piers this good on the whole East Coast. Plenty of reefs and wrecks nearby attract all the best fish, but you’ll want to book in advance to get your spot.
  • Whitetop Laurel Creek: Near the aptly-named town of Troutville, this is prime fly fishing country. Explore the remote wilderness and get your hands on these exciting critters.
  • Buggs Island Lake: Virginia’s largest lake is full of Bass, Crappie, Perch, and more. It’s a welcome, peaceful world away from the busier fishing spots of the bay.
  • Smith Mountain Lake: The state’s freshwater Striped Bass record was caught in this lake in the 1990s, so it needs no introduction. Add Walleye to the mix and you’re in for a real test.
  • Mount Rogers Recreation Area: This is one of the best Trout fisheries in the country, and you can land Rainbow and Brown varieties in abundance in the deep southwest.
  • James and Rappahannock Rivers: From the freshwater creeks to the brackish bay waters, these rivers have it all. Start with Bass, followed by monster Catfish, and end up on something as big as a Tarpon.
  • Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel: While it may not be quite as famous as the overwater structure in Maryland, it’s still a great spot for hooking into monster Rockfish, Cobia, and much more.

Anything Else?

Virginia Fishing Seasons 

A pier leads to a frozen lake in winter in Virginia

Before you reach for your rods and reels, there are just a couple more things to know. First of all, Virginia’s fishing seasons! As we mentioned, fishing is possible 365 days a year, but it all depends on what you want to catch. The Trout streams and Bass lakes offer rewards even in the depths of winter. But spawning seasons in spring and fall are the most productive times to visit.

While the Chesapeake Bay is also full of fish year-round, the fish can go into hiding when it’s wet. The season really gets going in spring and stays good until fall. Come in summer for your best chance of a mixed bag, when you can also go after the pelagics offshore.

Virginia Fishing Regulations

You’ll also need to be aware of Virginia’s fishing regulations. If casting your line in freshwater or from shore, you’ll need a license. Find out who needs one and how to get one with our handy guide. Most fish are also subject to size and bag limits, and some have strict seasons, too. You can’t, for example, harvest Striped Bass in April and half of May. For all other rules, consult the Virginia DWR for freshwater and MRC for saltwater regulations.

And You’re Good to Go!

A view of Virginia Beach fishing pier

Hopefully we’ve done Virginia’s fishing scene justice. But just to reiterate, it really is incredible! Of course, the best way for you to find out is not to take our word for it, but to try it out for yourself! Discover the wild streams on your own, bring your family to the beach, or explore the mighty Chesapeake Bay. Wherever you head, you’re in for some incredible action!

And now over to you! Have you ever been fishing in Virginia? What are your top tips? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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