Freshwater Fish Regulations

Fishing Regulations Icon Virginia Fishing


There is a continuous, year-round season for all freshwater fish, with the following exceptions:

  • Special times and limited closures for trout (Designated Stocked Trout Waters, Youth-only Stocked Trout Waters, Trout Heritage Waters, Urban Program Waters, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Fee Fishing trout waters); and
  • Certain seasons for special methods to take nongame fish.

Regulations for anadromous (coastal) striped bass, alewife and blueback herring above and below the fall line, in tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay; and anadromous (coastal) American shad and hickory shad, and all other saltwater fish below the fall line, in tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay, are set by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. For more information call 757-247-2200 or go online at www.mrc.virginia.gov.

Catch-and-Release Fishing

It is often necessary to release a fish because it is too small, illegal to keep, or you just don’t want to take it home to eat. In some cases, releasing fish unharmed is a conservation measure that will assist in helping to maintain and build population abundance and size. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries encourages anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing to use a few simple precautions when doing so. Using the tips below will help to assure that the fish you release will survive to bite again another day.

  • When catching a fish, play it quickly and keep the fish in the water as much as possible while handling. Avoid the use of a net in landing the fish and release it quickly to avoid exhaustion.
  • Handle the fish gently and as little as possible. Do not put your fingers in its eyes or gills. Avoid wiping the slime or scales off the fish; this reduces their survival by making them more susceptible to disease or infection.
  • Remove hook promptly using needle­nose pliers or a “hook out” device. If the hook is too deep or hooked in the stomach or throat, cut the line and leave the hook in. The hook will dissolve without harming the fish.
  • Carefully revive the fish if it appears exhausted by holding it upright and moving it gently forward so water runs over the gills. Release the fish when it begins to struggle and is able to swim.
  • Do not hold fish in a live well and later decide to release it. If you are going to release a fish, do so right away.
  • With a little care and by following the guidelines set above, you can give released fish a better chance of survival.
  • See the “Qualifying a Trophy Fish by Length and Photo” option for Trophy Fish Awards on Angler Recognition Program.

Fish Bait Information

Bait Type

Possession Limit


1 Minnows, Chubs, Madtoms


In aggregate with other bait, see below
1 Crayfish


In aggregate with other bait, see below
1 Hellgrammites


In aggregate with other bait, see below
1 Salamanders (less than 6 inches)


In aggregate with other bait, see below
2 Shad (Gizzard, Threadfin, Herring)


Only permitted in certain waters, see below
3 Trout


Artificially raised trout only, see below
4 Virginia Game Fish

See Creel & Length Limits

Collected by angling with hook and line only
Fathead minnows, golden shiners, goldfish


Legally purchased fish bait


Receipt needed specifying # and species

Legal Methods for Capturing Nongame Bait:

  • Seine not exceeding 4 feet depth by 10 feet in length.
  • Minnow traps with throat openings no larger than 1 inch in diameter.
  • Collected by angling with hook and line
  • Cast net.
  • Hand-held bow nets with diameter no larger than 20 inches and handle length not to exceed 8 feet.
  • Umbrella-type net not to exceed 5 by 5 feet square.
  • Dip nets may be used to take shad, herring, mullet, and suckers only but may not be used in waters where anadromous (American) shad and herring cannot be possessed.

Areas Restricted:

  • Designated stocked trout waters between October 1 and June 15.
  • Department-owned lakes, unless otherwise posted.
  • Lick Creek in Smyth and Bland counties, Bear Creek in Smyth County, Laurel Creek and tributaries upstream of the Highway 16 bridge in Tazewell and Bland counties, Hungry Mother Creek above Hungry Mother Lake in Smyth County, Susong Branch and Mumpower Creek in Washington County and the City of Bristol, and Timbertree Branch in Scott County.
  • Unlawful to take salamanders in Grayson Highlands State Park and on national forest lands in the Jefferson National Forest in those portions of Grayson, Smyth, and Washington counties bounded on the east by Rt. 16, on the north side by Rt. 603, and on the south and west by Rt. 58.
  • The use of nets other than cast nets (throw nets) to collect bait in the Roanoke (Staunton) and Dan Rivers in Campbell, Charlotte, Halifax, and Pittsylvania counties, and in the City of Danville is prohibited. Cast nets may be used to collect bait in these rivers.

Don’t let them hitch a ride

Zebra mussels are small (<1″) freshwater bivalves with dark and light bands on their shells. They can attach to surfaces, in clusters, leading to tremendous recreation, wildlife, and eco­nomic damage. They can be accidentally transported to Virginia by boaters and anglers, and we are counting on you to help stop the spread of zebra mussels by taking the following precautions:

  • Visually inspect and scrub boat hulls, motors, anchors, and trailers, removing any attached vegetation at site of origin, then hose equipment with hot (140°F) and/or high-pressure water if possible.
  • Bilges, live wells, and any other water-holding compartments should be drained at the site of origin and flushed with disinfectant or hot water.
  • Boat and other equipment should remain completely dry for at least 24 hours before being used again.
  • Take same precautions with waders, bait buckets, and other equipment that can hold water or come into contact with water.

If you believe you have seen or found a zebra mussel, please contact the Department immediately at (804) 367-6913 or Brian Watson at the Department’s Forest Office (434-525-7522). For more information on zebra mussels, please see our website.


Q: I am fishing for smallmouth bass at Lake Moomaw. How many and what size may I keep?

A: The statewide creel limit for bass is 5 in the aggregate, with no length limit. However, under GEOGRAPHICAL EXCEPTIONS, Lake Moomaw is listed. The exception is that no bass may be kept less than 12 inches long. Unless otherwise posted at the site, you could keep 5 bass but none of them can be less than 12 inches long.

Q: What does the term “in the aggregate” mean?

A: Aggregate means combined. In the example above for Lake Moomaw, unless otherwise posted, you can keep 5 bass in the aggregate but none can be less than 12 inches long. Example: You could keep 3 largemouth bass and 2 smallmouth bass for a combined or aggregate total of 5 but none of the 5 can be less than 12 inches in length.

Q: I am fishing for largemouth bass at Lake Brittle in Fauquier County. How many can I keep and of what size length?

A: Lake Brittle is not listed as a GEOGRAPHICAL EXCEPTION since this is not a major lake. The DGIF website at www.dgif.virginia.gov/lakes under Lake Brittle indicates there is a 12–15 inch slot limit on largemouth, where all bass between 12–15 inches must be released. You could keep 5 bass but none between 12–15 inches long. This restriction should also be posted at Lake Brittle.