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General Freshwater Fishing Regulations

Fishing in inland waters must be by angling with a hook and line or rod and reel. (See exceptions for nongame fish)

  • All fishing on inland waters requires a fresh- water fishing license, unless license exempt.
  • A hand landing net may be used to land fish legally hooked in all waters.
  • It is unlawful to have more than the daily creel limit of any fish in possession while afield or on the waters. The daily creel limit includes live possession of fish.
  • Any person who fishes on another’s property must have the landowner’s permission to do so except on designated stocked trout waters along which signs have been placed indicating that the waters are open to public fishing.
  • It shall be unlawful for any person, while fishing, to remove the head or tail or otherwise change the appearance of any game fish (except bluegill sunfish and bream of the sunfish family) having a daily creel or size limit so as to obscure its species or render it impracticable to measure its total original length or count the number of such fish in possession. In addition, it shall be unlawful for any person to possess or transport such altered game fish while on the water. However, the prohibition against possession and transportation in the previous sentence shall not apply to the preparation of lawfully obtained fish for immediate use as food or any lawful commercial use of such fish.
  • It is unlawful to use lime, dynamite, or any other substances to destroy fish, or to cast or allow noxious matter to pass into watercourses that might destroy fish or fish spawn, or to deposit trash in streams or lakes or along their banks.
  • It is illegal to use SCUBA (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear to take or attempt to take fish.
  • Remove all trotlines, juglines, or set poles from public waters when not in use (see page 25).
  • Marking fish with tagging equipment for personal information or research requires agency permission.
  • No species of fish, freshwater mussel, or mollusk may be taken in inland waters to be sold, except under special permits provided by law.
  • It is unlawful to take, kill, capture, or possess any threatened or endangered species.

Virginia Game Fish

Includes the following: trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rock bass, roa- noke bass, bream, bluegill, crappie, walleye, sauger, saugeye, chain pickerel, muskellunge, northern pike, striped bass, and white bass.

Stocking Fish

It is unlawful to stock any species of fish into the inland waters of Virginia without first obtaining written approval from the Department (private ponds excepted). Also, blue catfish and their hybrids cannot be stocked in privately owned ponds and lakes.

Trout As Bait

Artificially raised rainbow trout may be sold as bait for use in the James and New rivers, and in impoundments (ponds, lakes, reservoirs), except impoundments listed as designated stocked trout waters and Lake Moomaw. Persons possessing purchased rainbow trout for bait must have a valid invoice or bill of sale, specifying date of purchase, the number of trout purchased, and name of an individual or business permitted to sell trout.

Special Regulations

Lick Creek, Bear Creek, Hungry Mother Creek, Susong Branch, Mumpower Creek, and Timbertree Branch

It shall be unlawful to use fish as bait in Lick Creek in Smyth and Bland Counties, Bear Creek in Smyth County, Laurel Creek in Tazewell and Bland Counties (North Fork Holston River drain- age), Big Stony Creek in Giles County, Dismal Creek in Bland and Giles Counties, Laurel Creek in Bland County (Wolf Creek drainage) and Cripple Creek in Smyth and Wythe counties.

It shall be unlawful to use seines, nets, or traps to take fish in Lick Creek in Smyth and Bland Counties, Bear Creek and Hungry Mother Creek (above Hungry Mother Lake) in Smyth County, Laurel Creek and tributaries upstream of the Highway 16 Bridge in Tazewell and Bland Counties, Susong Branch and Mumpower Creek in Washington County and the City of Bristol, and in Timbertree Branch in Scott County.

Dam Regulations

Buggs Island

Mechanical lure launchers may not be used within 600 yards below Buggs Island Dam.

Walkers Dam

Only rod and reel and hand lines permitted within 500 yards below dam. It is illegal to snag fish at Walkers Dam.

Leesville Dam

It shall be unlawful to fish, attempt to fish, assist others in fishing, collect or attempt to collect bait while wading, or operating, or
anchoring any vessel in the waters of the Roanoke River from Leesville Dam downstream 840 feet to a permanent overhead cable. However, fishing is permitted from behind safety railings of the Department’s Leesville Dam fishing structure.


It shall be unlawful to fish or to collect bait from March 1 through June 15 within 300 feet of Boshers Dam Fishway on the north bank of the James River.

Department-owned Lakes, Ponds, Streams, or Boat Access Sites Motors and boats

Unless otherwise posted, the use of boats propelled by gasoline motors, sail, or mechanically operated paddle wheel is prohibited at Department-owned lakes, ponds, or streams. However, in Department-owned water bodies that prohibit the use of gasoline motors, it is permissible to use a boat equipped with such a motor provided the motor is turned off at all times (including launch and retrieval).

Method of fishing

Taking any fish at any Department-owned lake, pond, or stream by any means other than by use of one or more attended poles with hook and line attached is prohibited unless otherwise posted.

Hours for fishing

Fishing is permitted 24 hours a day unless otherwise posted at Department-owned lakes, ponds, streams, or boat access sites.

Seasons, hours and methods of fishing, size and creel limits, hunting

The open seasons for fishing, as well as fishing hours, methods of taking fish, and the size, possession and creel limits, and hunting and trapping on Department-owned lakes, ponds, streams, or boat access sites shall conform to the regulations of the board unless otherwise excepted by posted rules by the director or his designee. Such posted rules shall be displayed at each lake, pond, stream, or boat access site, in which case the posted rules shall be in effect. Failure to comply with posted rules concerning seasons, hours, methods of taking, bag limits, and size, possession, and creel limits shall con- stitute a violation of this regulation.

Other uses

Camping overnight or building fires (except in developed and designated areas), swimming, or wading in Department-owned lakes, ponds, or streams (except by anglers, hunters, and trappers actively engaged in fishing, hunting, or trapping), is prohibited. All other uses shall conform to the regulations of the board unless excepted by posted rules.

Fishing tournaments, etc.

It shall be unlawful to organize, conduct, supervise, or solicit entries for fishing tournaments, rodeos, or other fishing events on lakes, ponds, or streams owned by the Department for which prizes are offered, awarded, or accepted based on size or numbers of fish caught, either in money or other valuable considerations. This will not prohibit events approved by the Department which are intended to promote youth fishing or provide instruction, provided no prizes, as defined above, are awarded and no participation fees are charged.


There is a continuous, year-round season for all freshwater fish, with the following exceptions:

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 757- 247-2200 or visit the VMRC website.

Catch-and-Release Fishing

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” 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 “Other Uses” under Department Owned or Controlled Lakes, Ponds, Streams or Boat Access Sites).