General Information

Fishing Regulations Icon Virginia Fishing

  • Fishing in inland waters must be by angling with a hook and line or rod and reel.
  • All fishing on inland waters requires a freshwater fishing license, unless license exempt.
  • A hand landing net may be used to land fish legally hooked in all waters.
  • It is unlawful to have more than the daily creel limit of any fish in possession while afield or on the waters. The daily creel limit includes live possession of fish.
  • Any person who fishes on another’s property must have the landowner’s permission to do so except on designated stocked trout waters along which signs have been placed indicating that the waters are open to public fishing.
  • It shall be unlawful for any person, while fishing, to remove the head or tail or otherwise change the appearance of any game fish (except bluegill sunfish and bream of the sunfish family) having a daily creel or size limit so as to obscure its species or render it impracticable to measure its total original length or count the number of such fish in possession. In addition, it shall be unlawful for any person to possess or transport such altered game fish while on the water. However, the prohibition against possession and transportation in the previous sentence shall not apply to the preparation of lawfully obtained fish for immediate use as food or any lawful commercial use of such fish.
  • It is unlawful to use lime, dynamite, or any other substances to destroy fish, or to cast or allow noxious matter to pass into watercourses that might destroy fish or fish spawn, or to deposit trash in streams or lakes or along their banks.
  • It is illegal to use SCUBA (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear to take or attempt to take fish.
  • Remove all trotlines, juglines, or set poles from public waters when not in use.
  • Marking fish with tagging equipment for personal information or research requires agency permission.
  • No species of fish, freshwater mussel, or mollusk may be taken in inland waters to be sold, except under special permits provided by law.
  • It is unlawful to take, kill, capture, or possess any threatened or endangered species.

Virginia Game Fish

Includes the following: Trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rock bass, roanoke bass, bream, bluegill, crappie, walleye, sauger, white bass, chain pickerel, muskellunge, northern pike, striped bass, and saugeye.

Stocking Fish

It is unlawful to stock any species of fish into the inland waters of Virginia without first obtaining written approval from the Department (private ponds excepted). Also, blue catfish and their hybrids cannot be stocked in privately owned ponds and lakes.

Trout As Bait

Artificially raised rainbow trout may be sold as bait for use in the James and New rivers, and in impoundments (ponds, lakes, reservoirs), except impoundments listed as designated stocked trout waters and Lake Moomaw. Persons possessing purchased rainbow trout for bait must have a valid invoice or bill of sale, specifying date of purchase, the number of trout purchased, and name of an individual or business permitted to sell trout.

Special Regulations

Lick Creek, Bear Creek, Hungry Mother Creek, Susong Branch, Mumpower Creek, and Timbertree Branch

It shall be unlawful to use fish as bait or to use seines, nets, or traps to take fish in 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, in Susong Branch and Mumpower Creek in Washington County and the City of Bristol, and Timbertree Branch in Scott County.

Dam Regulations

Buggs Island

Mechanical lure launchers may not be used within 600 yards below Buggs Island Dam.

Walkers Dam

Only rod and reel and hand lines permitted within 500 yards below dam. It is illegal to snag fish at Walkers Dam.

Leesville Dam

It shall be unlawful to fish, attempt to fish, assist others in fishing, collect or attempt to collect bait while wading, or operating, or anchoring any vessel in the waters of the Roanoke River from Leesville Dam downstream 840 feet to a permanent overhead cable. However, fishing is permitted from behind safety railings of the Department’s Leesville Dam fishing structure.


It shall be unlawful to fish or to collect bait from March 1 through June 15 within 300 feet of Boshers Dam Fishway on the north bank of the James River.

Department-owned Lakes, Ponds, Streams, or Boat Access Sites

Motors and boats

Unless otherwise posted, the use of boats propelled by gasoline motors, sail, or mechanically operated paddle wheel is prohibited at Department-owned lakes, ponds, or streams. However, in Department-owned water bodies that prohibit the use of gasoline motors, it is permissible to use a boat equipped with such a motor provided the motor is trimmed up (out of the water) and turned off at all times (including launch and retrieval).

Method of fishing

Taking any fish at any Department-owned lake, pond, or stream by any means other than by use of one or more attended poles with hook and line attached is prohibited unless otherwise posted

Hours for fishing

Fishing is permitted 24 hours a day unless otherwise posted at Department-owned lakes, ponds, streams, or boat access sites.

Seasons, hours and methods of fishing, size and creel limits, hunting

The open seasons for fishing, as well as fishing hours, methods of taking fish, and the size, possession and creel limits, and hunting and trapping on Department-owned lakes, ponds, streams, or boat access sites shall conform to the regulations of the board unless otherwise excepted by posted rules by the director or his designee. Such posted rules shall be displayed at each lake, pond, stream, or boat access site, in which case the posted rules shall be in effect. Failure to comply with posted rules concerning seasons, hours, methods of taking, bag limits, and size, possession, and creel limits shall constitute a violation of this regulation.

Other uses

Camping overnight or building fires (except in developed and designated areas), swimming, or wading in Department-owned lakes, ponds, or streams (except by anglers, hunters, and trappers actively engaged in fishing, hunting, or trapping), is prohibited. All other uses shall conform to the regulations of the board unless excepted by posted rules.

Fishing tournaments, etc.

It shall be unlawful to organize, conduct, supervise, or solicit entries for fishing tournaments, rodeos, or other fishing events on lakes, ponds, or streams owned by the Department for which prizes are offered, awarded, or accepted based on size or numbers of fish caught, either in money or other valuable considerations. This will not prohibit events approved by the Department which are intended to promote youth fishing or provide instruction, provided no prizes, as defined above, are awarded and no participation fees are charged.

Fish Consumption Advisories

Fishing provides many benefits, including food and recreational enjoyment. Many anglers keep, cook, and eat their catches. Fish are routinely monitored for contaminants by the Department of Environmental Quality. Sometimes the fish in certain waters are found to contain potentially harmful levels of chemicals. When this happens, the Department of Health issues warnings for the affected bodies of water. Because the Health Department lowered their PCB advisory level and the list of advisories often changes several times in a given year, DGIF is no longer publishing a current list in this booklet. For specific, up-to-date fish consumption advisories, please go to the Health Department website, www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/public-health-toxicology/fish-consumption-advisories/ or call the Health Department at 804-864-8182.

Anglers should realize that they may still fish these waters and enjoy excellent recreational fishing. Below is a section on cleaning and cooking your fish, which will help reduce contamination levels in fish you eat.

Cleaning and Cooking Your Fish

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and most other organic contaminants usually build up in a fish’s fat deposits and just underneath the skin. By removing the skin and fat before cooking, you can reduce the levels of these chemicals. Mercury collects in the fish’s muscle and cannot be reduced by cleaning and cooking methods. To reduce PCBs and other organics in your fish, consider cleaning and cooking your fish as described below:

  • Remove all skin.
  • Trim off all the fat, especially the belly flap, along the lateral line on each side of the fish, along the back, and under the skin.
  • Bake or broil trimmed fish on a rack or grill. Cooking does not destroy the contaminants in fish, but heat from cooking melts some of the fat in the fish and allows some of the contaminated fat to drip away.
  • Discard any drippings. Do not eat them or use them for cooking other foods or for preparing sauces or gravies.

IMPORTANT: The meal advice included in this information is based on fish that have been skinned, trimmed, and cooked properly.

Also remember that larger and older fish tend to collect more contaminants, and fatty fish (such as channel catfish and carp) tend to collect PCBs and other organic chemicals. Eating smaller, younger fish and avoiding fatty species can help limit your exposure. Your exposure depends not only on the contaminant levels in the fish, but also on the amount of fish you eat.

Attention Anglers

Transfer and Unauthorized Release of Fish into Virginia’s Rivers and Lakes is Illegal!

Unauthorized introduction (i.e., stocking) of fish, including game, bait and aquarium species, into new waters can harm the environment and destroy public fisheries.

Examples of potentially harmful species that are illegal to release include:

  • Blue Catfish, which are overabundant in our tidal rivers, with ongoing efforts to reduce their abundance;
  • Flathead Catfish, which are native to the Midwest, prey on other fish species almost from the time they hatch;
  • Northern Snakeheads, which are exotics from Asia, with unknown impacts on other species;
  • Minnows released from bait buckets, which can out-compete native species and/or disrupt spawning of important species; and
  • Rusty Crayfish, which can destroy aquatic vegetation used as nursery habitat by game fish.

All introduced species have the potential to cause significant and irreversible damage, and the effects are frequently unpredictable.

You can help by:

  • Not transporting species into other waters.
  • Destroying, or holding for future use, any unused live bait.
  • Remembering that blue catfish and their hybrids cannot be stocked in privately-owned ponds and lakes.
  • Reporting suspicious and illegal activity to 1-800-237-5712.