Rappahannock River – Tidal
Moratorium on Possession of River Herring
It is now illegal for any person fishing tidal rivers to have river herring in their possession – this includes blueback herring and alewife. All river herring inadvertently caught by anglers must be immediately released back into the water. In Virginia, regulations regarding the harvest and possession of river herring are set by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. On January 1st, 2012, VMRC enacted a regulation which makes it unlawful to be in possession of river herring while on tidal waters. Anglers with concerns or questions should contact the Virginia Marine Fisheries Commission (VMRC) in Newport News at 1-800-541-4646. Additional information can be found on the VMRC website (http://www.mrc.state.va.us/regulations/fr1260.shtm).
Angling for freshwater species on the tidal Rappahannock is best from the head-of-tide at Fredericksburg downstream to Leedstown. This section of river is characterized by forested shorelines with large river bends cutting through high banks and cliffs, and below Route 301 the river opens up with broad expanses of tidal marsh. Anglers on the tidal Rappahannock can quite easily forget this river is just miles from densely populated sections of northern Virginia and Washington D.C. As a result of its scenic beauty and an abundance of important natural resources, the tidal Rappahannock is home to The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, one of four refuges comprising the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
The tidal Rappahannock offers an array of species for the freshwater angler to enjoy, including blue catfish, largemouth bass, and migratory anadromous species such as American shad, hickory shad, river herring (alewife and blueback herring), and striped bass.
Maps & Directions
On the freshwater fishing section of the tidal Rappahannock public boat launch sites are located at the following sites:
Fredericksburg City Docks (City of Fredericksburg) Map
Located on Sophia Street
Little Falls (Stafford County)
Little Falls treatment plant off Eastbound Route 3 Map
Hopyard Landing (King George County) Map
Wilmont Landing (King George County)Map
From Fredericksburg, Rt. East to Rollins Fork, Right on Rt. 627 for ~2.6 miles to landing.
Carter’s Wharf (Richmond County) Map
From Warsaw take Route 3 West, Left on Route 624 to Left on Route 622 to ramp.
Hoskins Creek (Tappahannock)Map
Access can also be obtained from several private ramps, including:
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)
- Rappahannock River Bass Stocking Report 2014
- 2012 Tidal River Largemouth Bass Outlook
- 2010 Tidal Blue Catfish Status Report
There is a possession limit of one blue catfish larger than 32 inches per person per day. There is no creel limit for blue catfish less than 32 inches in Virginia’s tidal rivers.
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)
The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, one of four refuges comprising the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Information regarding the refuge can be obtained on the web at: Fish & Wildlife Service