With its many waterways, Hampton Roads is a dream for fishing enthusiasts. Fishing can be done from piers, shorelines and by boat, with plenty of saltwater and freshwater options.
It is important to know the licensing rules and fishing regulations before you make your first cast.
Freshwater regulations can be found on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website at dgif.virginia.gov. For saltwater regulations, visit the Virginia Marine Resources Commission website at mrc.virginia.gov. A wide range of information about fishing in Virginia is available at dgif.virginia.gov/fishing.
A saltwater license is sufficient in the Chesapeake Bay and most Hampton Roads tidal waters, including the lower James River (downstream of the line between Hog Island and College Creek), lower York River (downstream of the Route 33 bridge) and Elizabeth River (north of Great Bridge Locks). Freshwater licenses are required when fishing lakes, reservoirs and ponds, as well as portions of rivers and creeks not designated as saltwater.
If you aren't sure whether you need one license or both, contact the VMRC, game and inland fisheries, or ask the experts at your local bait and tackle shop. It is always best to ask and be certain than to guess and risk a fine.
Licenses can be purchased online, at most local bait and tackle shops, and at some retail locations that sell fishing gear. A license is not required if you are younger than 16, or if you are 65 and older. Those 65 and older fishing in saltwater areas are required to register for free each year with the Virginia Fisherman Identification Program. This can be done online at mrc.virginia.gov/fip.
Common saltwater gamefish in the lower Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries include black drum, cobia, croaker, flounder, gray trout (weakfish), red drum (smaller fish referred to as "puppy drum"), spot, spotted seatrout (speckled trout, specks), striped bass (rockfish) and tautog. Many of these species move in and out of area waters seasonally, with water temperature and migratory patterns playing a key role. Many other species frequent the bay, particularly during the summer months.
Saltwater baits and methods vary depending on the species. Crab, squid, shrimp, bunker (menhaden) and bloodworms are common natural baits. A range of artificials — bucktail jigs, soft plastic grubs, plugs and lures — are commonly used. If you've never dropped a line in the water before, a piece of cut squid or bloodworm on a hook with a little bit of weight to keep it on the bottom will usually entice a bite if croaker or spot are in the area.
Offshore, many pelagic species and bottom fish are available in the Atlantic Ocean's waters.
Blue crabs, oysters and clams also are abundant in the area's tidal reaches. Each carries its own set of regulations. Current rules are available on the Virginia Marine Resources Commission website. If you need clarification on any of the rules, email addresses and phone numbers for VMRC personnel can be found on the website's "Contact Us" page.
Common freshwater catches include largemouth bass, striped bass, several varieties of panfish, catfish and crappie (speckled perch). Baits and methods vary widely. Visit your local bait and tackle shop and ask the experts.
When going fishing, always:
• Have your fishing license and a photo ID
• Wear sunscreen
• Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
• Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return
Common saltwater gamefish
Striped bass. The most popular gamefish in the Chesapeake Bay. Fish can only be kept during specific spring and fall seasons.
Flounder. A favorite catch of the bay's small-boat fishermen, commonly caught around bridges and other underwater structure.
Croaker. The most common catch in the bay, and found almost everywhere.
Gray trout. Also known as weakfish, gray trout can be caught from many of the area's piers.
Spotted seatrout. Common in shallow waters during the late spring, summer and fall.
Red drum. Smaller fish referred to as puppy drum. These aggressive feeders are found in large numbers throughout the area.
Cobia. A summer visitor, cobia is the largest gamefish available to area anglers.
Tautog. Found around structure in deeper water. Closed season May 1-Sept. 19.
NOTE: Saltwater fishing regulations can change monthly. Be sure you check the regulations before you go fishing.
Common freshwater gamefish
Largemouth bass. All local reservoirs are stocked with them.
Chain pickerel. A member of the pike family, most active in cooler weather.
Crappie. These slab-like fish are a delight to catch on ultralight spinning gear.
Catfish. Abundant in the reservoirs and the James River.
Striped bass. A number of reservoirs have been stocked with striped bass.
Panfish. These include sunfish, bluegill and perch.
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains a number of public boat ramps. There is no charge to use these ramps. The department also publishes free brochures that show the ramps' locations. You can pick up a brochure at local marinas or request one by calling the department in Richmond at 804-367-1000. Website: dgif.virginia.gov.
Here are some of the public ramps in the Peninsula area:
Gloucester Point. Off Route 1208 in Gloucester Point on the York River.
Huntington Park. Near the foot of the James River Bridge in Newport News.
Dandy Point. On the Back River in the Fox Hill section of Hampton.
Warwick River. At the end of Denbigh Boulevard in Newport News.
Messick Point. At the end of Messick Road in Poquoson.
Back Creek Park. Off Goodwin Neck Road on the way to Dandy in York County.
Boating safety requirement
In Virginia, anyone operating a motorboat or personal watercraft is required to carry proof that they have completed a state- and NASBLA-approved boating safety course. Boating safety courses are offered in-person throughout the area, or can be taken online at certified sites such as boatus.org/virginia. For complete regulations and information, visit dgif.virginia.gov/boating.
• James T. Wilson Fishing Pier (formerly Buckroe Fishing Pier): Open 24 hours every day from April 1 to Dec. 31 and houses rod rentals, a snack shop and a bait shop. Daily admission ranges from $6 to $8. Monthly and seasonal passes are available. 330 S. Resort Blvd. in Hampton. Call 757-727-1486 or visit hampton.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/47.
• James River Fishing Pier: Located in Newport News next to the James River Bridge in Huntington Park. 2019 James River Bridge, Newport News. Open 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, closed during winter months. Call 757-247-0364 for latest information. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for children. A new pier was built in 2015 and is about two-thirds the length of the old pier.
Hours vary for free access piers, but sunrise to sunset is a good rule of thumb for your first visit. A valid saltwater fishing license is required unless otherwise indicated.
• Hilton Pier (James River, in Newport News, behind Hilton Elementary School)
• Denbigh Park (Warwick River, in Newport News, far west end of Denbigh Boulevard)
• Peterson's Yacht Basin (Hampton Roads, in Newport News, on Chesapeake Avenue)
• Monitor-Merrimac Overlook and King-Lincoln Pier (Hampton Roads, in Newport News, near King-Lincoln Park)
• Engineers Fishing Pier (Chesapeake Bay, in Hampton, on Fort Monroe)
• Rodgers A. Smith Landing (Poquoson River, in York County, end of Tide Mill Road)
• Yorktown Fishing Pier* (York River, at Yorktown Beach)
• Gloucester Point* (York River, in Gloucester Point, near Coleman Bridge)
• Croaker Landing Pier** (York River, at York River State Park in upper York County)
*No fishing license required at these locations.
**No fishing license required, but there is a car fee to enter the park.
Reservoirs and lakes
Most reservoirs were built in the early- to mid-1900s as water-supply systems for Hampton Roads. The state has stocked many of these reservoirs with a variety of gamefish. Basic information about most freshwater bodies can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/lakes.
Beaverdam: 635 acres. Good largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie and panfish angling. Two boat ramps, boat and canoe rentals and picnic facilities. Launch fee is $6 for boats, $3 for canoes. Annual launch passes are available. Park hours vary by month, but always open by 7:30 a.m. and never closed before 5 p.m. Open every day except Christmas. 8687 Roaring Springs Road, Gloucester. 804-693-2107. gloucesterparks.org/find-a-park/beaverdam-park.
Burnt Mills Reservoir: 711 acres. Largemouth bass and panfish are the main catches. At Route 602 and Route 603 in Suffolk. City of Norfolk boat permit required. Gas motors must be less than 10 horsepower. Open sunrise to sunset. More information available by calling the DGIF Chesapeake office at 757-465-6811. More information at www.dgif.virginia.gov/waterbody/burnt-mills-reservoir.
Chickahominy Lake: 1,230 acres. This 8-mile-long reservoir along the line between New Kent and Charles City counties is one of the top fishing spots in the state. There are no public boat ramps on the lake. For private ramp information and launch fees, contact Ed Allen's Campground (804-966-5368) or Eagles Landing (804-966-9094).
Harwood's Mill Reservoir: 265 acres. Private boat launch and shoreline fishing permits are required. Permits can be obtained at Harwood's Mill Fishing Area on Oriana Road on weekends and holidays from May to October, 7 a.m. to sunset. At all other times, permits must be obtained at the Newport News Park campsite office at 13564 Jefferson Ave., Newport News. Boat rentals are available when the Harwood's Mill Fishing Area office is open. Stocked with largemouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish. 757-888-3333. www.nngov.com/794/Fishing.
Lake Maury (The Mariners' Museum Lake): 165 acres. Bank fishing is only allowed near the boat house and the new dock. Boats, canoes and paddle boats are available for rental. No private boats are allowed on the lake. Fishing is catch-and-release only, and a fishing license is required. There is a $5 fee to fish from designated areas and docks. 757-591-7799. www.dgif.virginia.gov/waterbody/lake-maury.
Lake Prince: 946 acres. Excellent fishing for striped bass, largemouth, shellcracker (sunfish) and chain pickerel. Boat ramp located on Route 604 near Suffolk. Norfolk boat permits required. Gas motors limited to less than 10 horsepower. Bank fishing is restricted. Open sunrise to sunset. More information at www.dgif.virginia.gov/waterbody/lake-prince.
Lee Hall Reservoir: 230 acres. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappie and sunfish are the main catches. Boat rentals and private launch permits are available. Pier and shoreline fishing requires a permit, which can be obtained daily from 7 a.m.-sunset at Newport News Park Campsite Office, or at the Lee Hall Fishing Area concession 10 a.m.-sunset on weekend and holidays from May-September. Inside Newport News Park. 757-888-3333. www.nngov.com/794/Fishing.
Little Creek: 996 acres. Boat ramp and boat/canoe/kayak rentals. No rentals available on Tuesday or Thursday. Electric motors only. Boat launch fee is $5 for residents, $8 for nonresidents. Off Forge Road on Lakeview Road (Route 610) in Toano. Open all year, 7 p.m. to sunset on weekdays and 6 a.m. to sunset on weekends and holidays. No charge to fish from pier. 757-603-7853. More info at jamescitycountyva.gov/2904/Little-Creek-Reservoir-Park-17.
Lake Meade and Lake Cohoon: Each about 500 acres. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappie and panfish are the main catches. Boat ramp available. Boat permit required from the City of Portsmouth. Pitchkettle Road in Suffolk. For more information, call the Cohoon-Meade Fishing Station at 757-397-4215 or visit www.dgif.virginia.gov/waterbody/lake-meade or www.dgif.virginia.gov/waterbody/lake-cohoon.
Sandy Bottom Park Pond: 12 acres. Fishing — catch-and-release for largemouth bass — is allowed from the pier or from boat rentals only. Anyone 16 or older must have a state freshwater license. Located at 1255 Big Bethel Road in Hampton. For more information, call 757-825-4657 or visit www.hampton.gov/sandybottom.
Waller Mill: 360 acres. A picturesque reservoir featuring striped bass, largemouth bass and panfish. Boat ramp available. Boat rentals may not be available due to ongoing construction, so visitors planning to rent should call ahead. In Williamsburg's Waller Mill Park, located on Airport Road (Rt. 645). Open all year except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. Hours vary. 757-259-3778. More information at www.williamsburgva.gov/index.aspx?page=477.