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Blackwater River

New Moratorium on Possession of River Herring

It is now illegal for any person fishing this river to have American Shad in their possession. All American Shad and river herring inadvertently caught by anglers must be immediately released back into the water.


The Blackwater originates as a coastal plain swamp in Prince George County. It flows east through braided channels of bald cypress and tupelo in Surry County. The river then turns south into Southampton County where several boat ramps are accessible for anglers, hunters and boaters alike. The Blackwater then joins with the Nottoway to form the Chowan at the Virginia-North Carolina state line. Floating the Blackwater River is best done with a canoe, kayak or small jon boat. There is very little or no flow much of the time, so be prepared when traveling between access points. Don’t let this deter you if you are a traditional canoeist, the Blackwater boasts some gorgeous float trips through ancient tree lined wetlands. On any one trip you can see whitetail deer, numerous waterfowl, raccoons, squirrels and many unique reptile and amphibian species, not to mention a healthy fish population swimming under the water’s surface.

The dark, tannin stained waters of the Blackwater River host runs of striped bass, river herring (alewives and blueback), American and hickory shad in the spring. Angling for redbreast (“red throats” or “red robins”) and redear (“shellcrackers”) sunfish is also quite good in the spring. The river also hosts largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, flier, blue catfish and chain pickerel populations. Bowfin and gar are common in the lower main stem. Angling for bowfin provides a great opportunity to catch many hard-fighting fish in a short amount of time. The possibility also exists to land a trophy bowfin and blue catfish.


Springtime fishing can be very good for American shad and hickory shad. Anadromous fish tend to concentrate in areas where flow is constricted and moving water is present. Anglers should use shad darts, spoons and spinners to catch fish up to 3 lbs and occasionally up to 5 lbs. Late spring-early summer is the best time to catch big largemouth bass. Spawning bass can be found around cypress knees and around large woody debris. Bass jigs, crankbaits and artificial worms work best for spawning fish. The full moon in May and June is the best time to catch sunfish. The Blackwater River supports good populations of bluegill, redear and redbreast sunfish. Sunfish readily take crickets and worms under a bobber if you enjoy live bait fishing.

If artificial is your lure of choice, try a beetle spin or small crankbait. When temperatures warm up and water levels drop in the summer months, fishing can be tough, but bowfin and gar can provide a unique angling opportunity. Try bass jigs and artificial worms worked slowly on the bottom for bowfin. If you have never caught one of these ‘prehistoric’ fish, then you are in for a treat. Once hooked, a bowfin is one of the gamest fish in Virginia. Make sure you have a stout rod and heavy line to handle these fish that top 6 lbs. frequently. Gar readily take live (or dead) minnows during the summer months. Another popular way to catch gar is to tie a brightly colored piece of nylon rope on the end of your line and pull it in front of a gar. When the gar strikes, its teeth will usually get entangled in the rope and the fight is on. Later in the summer and early fall, catfish fishing heats up on the Blackwater River.  Blue catfish are common throughout the river and now offer an opportunity to land a trophy sized fish over 30 lbs.  Bank fishing opportunities are limited to some bridge crossings, state boat ramps, and canoe access areas. No permits are required.

Boat ramps can be found at Routes 611 (Joyner’s Bridge Rd) and 603 off Route 258 in Isle of Wight County.

A double-lane boat ramp with paved parking and bathroom facilities is open in the City of Franklin. There is no fishing on the courtesy piers at the boat ramp, but there is ample bank fishing from the shoreline at the nearby Barrett’s Landing Park.

Canoe access can be found off of Rt. 619 (Burdette), Rt. 189 (South Quay), and Rt. 620 (Broadwater Br.), but beware of vehicle parking restrictions.

Biologist Reports


Black Bass

  • 5 per day in aggregate
  • No length limits


  • 50 per day in aggregate
  • No length limits


  • 25 per day
  • No length limits


  • 20 per day
  • No length limits

Striped Bass

  • 2 per day
  • No striped bass less then 18 inches

Hickory Shad

  • 10 per day in the aggregate
  • No length limits

American Shad

  • No possession

River Herring (Blueback and Alewife)

  • No possession

All Other Species

Facilities, Amenities, and Nearby Attractions

A new double-lane boat ramp with paved parking and bathroom facilities is open in the City of Franklin.