Game/Sport Fish Regulations
Virginia Game Fish
"Game fish" as defined by the Code of Virginia means and includes trout, all of the sunfish family (including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rock bass, bream, bluegill and crappie), walleye, white bass, chain pickerel, muskellunge, northern pike and striped bass.
There is a continuous, year-round season for all freshwater game and nongame fish, with the following exceptions:
- Special times and limited closures for trout (designated stocked trout waters, Trout Heritage Waters, Urban Program Waters, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Fee Fishing Areas) 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 1-757-247-2200.
The Fall Line is defined as the following landmarks:
- Rappahannock River: Rt. 1 Bridge
- Mattaponi River: Rt. 360 Bridge
- Pamunkey River: Rt. 360 Bridge
- Chickahominy River: Walkers Dam
- James River: 14th Street Bridge
- Occoquan River: I-95 Bridge.
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.
Creel and Length Limits
The table of Creel and Length Limits (PDF) give statewide creel and length limits for major sport fish, and exceptions for major rivers and lakes. Regulations for many smaller lakes and boat access areas are posted on site, and posted regulations are in effect (see "D" under Department Owned or Controlled Lakes, Ponds, Streams or Boat Access Sites).