Rappahannock River - Tidal - Fishing Opportunities
The two most sought after catfish species in the tidal Rappahannock River, channel cats and blue cats, are not native to the river. Channel catfish were likely first stocked in the Rappahannock sometime between 1890 and the early 1900's, and blue catfish were not introduced to the river until the mid-1970's.
Following introduction, blue catfish quickly became extremely abundant in the tidal section of the river, replacing channel catfish as the dominant catfish species. Today anglers can still catch good numbers of "eating size" 1-3 lb channel catfish by fishing night crawlers or other cutbait.
During the 1990's the tidal Rappahannock typically yielded over 100 blue catfish citations (angler trophy awards) each year, with the tidal Rappahannock producing state record blue cats during this timeframe. However, in recent years the number of blue catfish citations has dropped dramatically in this river, due slower growth rates - now days the average blue catfish will not reach 30 pounds even if it lived 25 years. Introduced fish populations often exhibit incredibly rapid growth in the years immediately following introduction, only to settle back into a more sustainable growth pattern after several years. This is apparently the case here. Anglers can still expect to see the occasional 40-plus pound blue cat in this river, but should not expect to see the number of big blue cats seen in the 1990's, and anglers looking for trophy blue catfish may want to consider fishing the tidal James River, or Potomac.
Blue catfish are abundant in the river from Fredericksburg downstream to Carters Wharf. Fresh gizzard shad is the bait of choice. Angling for blue cats is best in river bends having deep channel drop-offs near steep banks and good submerged structure, such as old pier pilings or downed trees.
With slower growth and lower catch rates, this largemouth population has never had the national reputation the tidal Chickahominy and James largemouth fisheries have experienced. However recent angler reports of good catches of bass in the tidal Rappahannock match findings of VDGIF biologists, which include improved electrofishing catch rates in recent years. Above Route 301, highest bass catch rates in electrofishing surveys were recorded from Hick's Landing downstream to near Port Royal. Largemouth bass in the lower Rappahannock River, below Portobago Bay, have limited areas where suitable habitat and forage are available – shorelines adjacent to side-channel drop-offs, marsh back channels, and in tidal tributaries. However, recent electrofishing surveys indicate good numbers of largemouth can be found in these pockets of habitat.
Smallmouth bass are encountered rarely in fisheries surveys. However, there have been verified reports of some very large (citation sized) individuals from the tidal section of the Rappahannock between City Dock and Little Falls. This species is more abundant the closer one gets to the fall line, and occurs throughout the non-tidal upper Rappahannock.
The spring shad run provides excellent fishing for hickory shad at the fall line in Fredericksburg, with angler catches typically peaking in mid-to-late April. Anglers in the know find success either fly fishing or spin-casting for these lively fighting fish.
Seasonal striped bass fishing opportunities exist throughout the tidal Rappahannock, however fall striper fishing is best in the lower river.
NOTE: Regulations regarding season and creel limits for American shad, hickory shad, river herring, and striped bass in the tidal Rappahannock are set by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). For season information contact VMRC in Newport News at 1-800-541-4646 or on the web at: (VMRC)