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 http://www.dgif.virginia.gov. For saltwater regulations, visit the Virginia Marine Resources Commission website at mrc.virginia.gov.
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 make certain you are completely legal.
Licenses can be purchased online, at most local bait shops, and at some retail locations that sell fishing gear. A license is not required if you are under 16, or if you are 65 and over. Those 65 and older fishing in saltwater areas are required to register for free each year with the Virginia Fisherman Identification Program.
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. Most 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 Atlantic Ocean waters.
Blue crabs, oysters and clams are also 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.
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.