Major Fishing Rivers
For more detailed fishing and access information for all of the major fishing rivers please check out the fishing web pages: www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing.
The Appomattox is a major tributary of the James River that flows out of Appomattox Co. toward Petersburg and Hopewell. Lake Chesdin, just west of Petersburg, is a major man-made impoundment on the river.
Fishery: A wide range of species, including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and redbreast sunfish, bluegill, flier, crappie, pickerel, and fallfish. Striped bass and walleye, which run out of Lake Chesdin, provide a seasonal fishery.
Access: Mostly limited to bridge crossings. Due to the remote nature of the river, only experienced boaters should try its waters.
Blackwater River (Chowan Drainage)
The Blackwater originates in Prince George Co., flows east through Surry Co., then south into the Nottoway to form the Chowan.
Fishery: Hosts runs of river herring in spring, along with limited numbers of shad and striped bass. Redbreast sunfish angling is also quite good in the spring; also has largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, flier, and chain pickerel; bowfin and gar are common in the lower river.
Access: Ramps are available in the City of Franklin and at Routes 611 and 603 off Route 258; canoe access is available at several bridge crossings; bank fishing is limited to some bridge crossings, state boat ramps, and canoe access areas.
The Chickahominy flows east out of Henrico and Hanover Cos. and enters the James River east of Jamestown. Chickahominy Lake is a man-made reservoir along the New Kent/Charles City Co. line.
Fishery: With its beautiful cypress studded shoreline, the river below the lake supports a nationally known largemouth bass fishery; with good fishing for crappie, bowfin, yellow perch, channel catfish, longnose gar, and blue catfish.
Access: Chickahominy Riverfront Park; the WMA landing on Morris Creek; and Brickyard Landing west of Toano, off Route 610. Private ramps: Rock-a-Hock Campground; and River’s Rest.
The Clinch is the crown of the mountain empire, flowing 135 miles southwestward from its origin near the town of Tazewell on its way to the Tennessee state line.
Fishery: The river is home to many rare species of mussels and dozens of species of minnows and darters, but the variety of sport fish is what makes the Clinch a great destination for anglers; native game fish are the smallmouth bass, spotted bass, walleye, and sauger. Largemouth bass, rock bass, redbreast sunfish, longear sunfish, and bluegill are available, as well as musky, black crappie, and freshwater drum. Both channel and flathead catfish are found in good numbers and sizes. Striped bass and white bass are sometimes caught in the lower stretches, where they migrate out of Norris Reservoir in Tennessee.
The Dan originates high along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Patrick Co. and flows easterly until it empties into 50,000-acre Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) near Clarksville, Virginia.
Fishery: In mountainous Patrick Co.; wild and stocked trout fishing opportunities, with two special regulation areas. Just west of Danville, this slower flowing Dan offers fishing for catfish, largemouth bass, and several kinds of sunfish; landlocked striped bass fishing begins east of Danville. Migratory fish running out of Kerr and flathead and blue catfish are the heart of the lower river fishing; walleye begin moving as early as January, white perch and white bass begin to migrate in early April, and the striped bass run begins in late April and continues through May.
James River (Upper)
From the confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers in Alleghany Co., the James flows east toward Richmond.
Fishery: Both the mountain sections (upstream from Lynchburg) and the piedmont sections (between Lynchburg and Richmond) offer excellent smallmouth bass fishing; other species include channel catfish, flathead catfish, and various sunfish species (redbreast, bluegill, and rock bass). Muskies are also annually stocked; these fish are scarce, with most muskies found upstream of Lynchburg.
Access: Canoeing is the best way to access the river; jet motor and jon boats can also be used at some access points; numerous sites are available; see the website. Bank and wade fishing access is available throughout.
James River (Lower)
Fishery: A nationally recognized largemouth bass fishery; upstream from Hopewell, largemouth fishing is best in old river channels and abandoned gravel pits; downstream from Hopewell to Hog Island, bass fishing is most productive in larger tributary creeks and large expanses of vegetated tidal flats. The tidal James also provides the best fishing for blue catfish in the state; good crappie fishing in oxbows upstream of Hopewell; and white perch throughout the river. A healthy run of hickory shad has created a very popular spring fishery within the Fall Line from late March through early May; and anadromous striped bass (“rockfish”) fishing is seasonally excellent in the vicinity of the I-95 Bridge in Richmond during the same timeframe.
Calfpasture and Little Calfpasture rivers come together to form the Maury River just before entering famous Goshen Pass; once through the turbulent Pass the river drops into the valley toward Lexington and enters the James River at Glasgow.
Fishery: The Goshen Pass section has an excellent stocked trout fishery; smallmouth bass are caught anywhere from the headwaters to the mouth of the river where it enters the James; the Maury is loaded with scrappy redbreast sunfish and has some rock bass; other fish include carp, catfish, and suckers.
The New is the oldest river in North America and second oldest in the world. It begins in North Carolina and flows northward for 160 miles through Virginia before it turns into Bluestone Lake in West Virginia.
Fishery: The New rivals the James and Rappahannock rivers as one of the best sport fisheries in Virginia: smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, walleye, black crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, yellow perch, redbreast sunfish, and bluegill. State records include musky (45 lbs. 8 oz.), smallmouth (8 lbs. 1 oz.), and walleye (15 lbs. 15 oz.).
Access: Plenty of excitement for whitewater enthusiasts, with several major Class II–III rapids. There is also an abundance of flatwater to please motor boaters and canoeists. Numerous sites are available; see the website.
North Fork Holston River
From its origin in Bland Co., the North Fork Holston flows over 100 miles through Southwest Virginia before crossing the Tennessee state line near Yuma.
Fishery: Outstanding smallmouth bass population, with good numbers of smallmouth 14 to 18 inches, about one-third more than 14 inches, and more than 10% longer than 17 inches; rock bass and several species of sunfish provide good fishing and channel and flathead catfish are available. There is a mercury fish consumption prohibition in effect from Saltville downstream to the Tennessee line.
North Fork Shenandoah River
The North Fork Shenandoah flows north 116 miles from Rockingham Co. to Front Royal where it joins the South Fork Shenandoah to form the Shenandoah River.
Fishery: Anglers can expect to catch smallmouth bass throughout and the North Fork is also home to some largemouth bass and redbreast sunfish, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, fallfish, muskie, American eel, white sucker, common carp, crappie, yellow bullhead and channel catfish.
Access: The North Fork is a relatively small, shallow river; is an ideal river to float by canoe; and can easily be waded.
For updated information about the Shenandoah River fish disease investigations visit: www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing.
North Landing and Northwest Rivers
The North Landing and Northwest rivers in the Tidewater area may be close in proximity and eventually join in North Carolina, but there are plenty of differences between the two.
North Landing, the larger of the two, contains part of the Intracoastal Waterway, so you can follow the waterway north to the Elizabeth River, and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay; heading south takes you into Currituck Sound in North Carolina.
Fishery: A wide variety of both freshwater and brackish fish include largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, white perch, and white catfish, with a resurgence of smaller striped bass (up to 10 pounds).
Northwest River, draining eastward from the Great Dismal Swamp, is very dark in color and acidic (commonly referred to as blackwater). There are plenty of small tributaries to explore that keep you away from bigger boats on the main river.
Fishery: Abundant bluegill and pumpkinseed, good numbers of largemouth bass, redear, black crappie, chain pickerel, and a few white perch and white catfish.
The Nottoway begins in Prince Edward and Lunenburg counties and flows 130 miles southeasterly to its confluence with the Blackwater River at the North Carolina line, forming the Chowan River.
Fishery: The fishery is divided at Rt. 630 Bridge on the Greensville-Sussex Co. line: above has numerous redbreast sunfish, smallmouth bass, and Roanoke bass.; below, bluegill, largemouth bass, black crappie, and channel catfish are more common; spring sees blueback herring, American shad, hickory shad, striped bass, and white perch migrating upstream from North Carolina.
Access: Above Route 630 bridge, canoeists find nice float trips in this shallow, clear and fast flowing section; below Rt. 630, the river slows, deepens, and darkens as numerous swamps in the Coastal Plain join it and this part of the river, particularly in Southampton County, is large enough for bass boats during normal flows.
Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers
The Rappahannock flows from its origin at Chester Gap in Fauquier Co. ~184 miles to the Chesapeake Bay. The first 62 miles, from the headwaters to Mayfield Bridge (Fredericksburg), are designated State Scenic River.
Fishery: Above Fredericksburg and tidal influence: excellent smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish angling. Below Fredericksburg: herring and shad run each spring and the tidal area also hosts white perch, largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, yellow perch, channel catfish, and blue catfish.
Access: Upper Rappahannock and Rapidan access: public access points on the Rapp (traveling downstream) are at Kelly’s Ford (Route 672 off Route 651) in Culpeper Co. and Motts Landing (Route 618) in Spotsylvania Co.; about 25 miles separate these canoe/jon boat slides and an overnight camp stop is nearly mandatory to float fish this reach; another access point is located on the Rapidan at Elys Ford (Route 610) in Spotsylvania Co. about 14 miles upstream of Motts Landing. Access may also be gained via several “non-established” points consisting of VDOT rights-of-way along bridges. Tidal area public boat launch sites below Fredericksburg: 4 (two near Fredericksburg), Hicks Landing (Port Royal) and Tappahannock.
Originating in western Greene and Albemarle counties, the North and South forks of the Rivanna River combine on the western edge of Charlottesville and flow southeast to the river’s confluence with the James River at Columbia (Fluvanna County). The main stem Rivanna River is a 40-mile stretch of river below the South Rivanna Reservoir that has the recognition of being Virginia’s first designated Scenic River.
Fishery: The main stem Rivanna is known for its excellent smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, and channel catfish fisheries. Anglers can also expect to catch bluegill, crappie, fallfish, green sunfish, largemouth bass, longnose gar, and rock bass, with the occasional chance to catch flathead catfish and walleye.
Access: The Rivanna is suited for floating with a canoe or kayak due to its small size, rocky bottom, and relatively shallow water. Much of the access to the Rivanna is on the main stem section of the river; there are numerous hand-launch access areas from Charlottesville downstream to Columbia.
Shenandoah River (Main Stem)
Main stem Shenandoah River is formed when the North Fork and South Fork converge at Front Royal, flows 57 miles, and empties into the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Fishery: Serious smallmouth anglers know the Shenandoah as one of the top smallmouth bass rivers in the eastern US. Excellent smallmouth spawning success over the past few years has greatly minimized the observed impacts of the disease and mortality events. (For updated information about the Shenandoah River fish disease investigations visit: www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/.) Other sport fish include channel catfish and musky.
South Fork Shenandoah River
The South Fork Shenandoah begins at the confluence of the North River and South River near Port Republic and flows north 97 miles to meet the North Fork Shenandoah at Front Royal.
Fishery: A long-standing reputation as an excellent smallmouth bass river; however, the severity and distribution of “chronic” fish disease and mortality events has varied from year to year, causing different sections to have varying densities of smallmouth and redbreast. (For updated information about the Shenandoah River fish disease investigations visit: www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/)
Access: A very popular destination for canoeists, over 20 public access points creates the opportunity to plan many different float trips of varying length (check out the fishing web pages).
Staunton (Roanoke) River
The Staunton, actually an 81-mile segment of the Roanoke River, begins at Leesville Dam and continues to the confluence with Kerr Reservoir.
Fishery: Seasonal runs of walleye, striped bass, white bass, white perch, and suckers. Catfish, including larger flathead catfish, can be caught throughout the river. Smallmouth bass and Roanoke bass (a larger cousin of the rock bass) are common in the upper sections, particularly around riffles and other rocky habitat. Largemouth and crappie are attractive angling prospects in the lower river, toward the state park.
Access: A public bank fishing area is found just below Leesville Dam and large sections of the Staunton River also are accessible to motorboats, with access points at Altavista, Long Island, Brookneal, Clarkton Bridge, Watkins Bridge, US 360 E, and Staunton River State Park.
Meghan Marchetti / DGIF