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Dragon Run / Piankatank River

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 (

Those visiting the Dragon will find it much the same as in generations past, both in terms of its scenic beauty and in the diversity of fish it provides for anglers. The Piankatank River and Dragon Swamp “The Dragon” support a surprising number of fish species, from freshwater gamefish such as largemouth bass, redbreast sunfish, and warmouth to important migratory fish species such as shad, river herring and striped bass.

The Dragon begins as a non-tidal blackwater stream surrounded by vast areas of flooded woodlands, cypress swamps, and freshwater marshes, where access is limited to a few bridge crossings. The expanses of lowland hardwoods and cypress swamps that fringe the river make for a trip back in time for those adventurous few who venture here, and fishing will be an added bonus to a wonderful wildlife experience. Chain pickerel and warmouth sunfish provide exciting action in the upper Dragon, and anglers will be likely to encounter bowfin, redbreast sunfish, and white catfish as well. Beaver dams and logjams are numerous and vegetation typically chokes the channel by late spring. As a result, the best time to fish or float this section of the Dragon is during early spring when water levels are relatively high and aquatic vegetation growth has not completely blocked passage. The float from Route 602 to Route 603 is the shortest between bridge crossings on the Dragon, and can easily take a full day to complete. Anglers unfamiliar with the Dragon may want to limit themselves to fishing in the vicinity of bridge crossings where relatively deep channels provide good “pool” habitat for chain pickerel and other species.

The lower reaches of the Dragon (below Route 17) support spawning runs of a number of migratory fish species. These anadromous species spend a majority of their adult lives in the ocean and Chesapeake Bay, making annual spring spawning runs up freshwater rivers and streams such as the Dragon. Species of anadromous fish occurring in the Dragon’s excellent spawning and nursery habitat include American shad, hickory shad, river herring (actually two species, alewife and blueback herring), and striped bass. All of these species are important economic and recreational resources of the Chesapeake Bay. Restoration efforts by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources in cooperation with other state and federal agencies have resulted in increased numbers of striped bass in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, while recovery efforts continue for the American shad. Spring striped bass fishing can be excellent in the lower Dragon and upper sections of the Piankatank.

The lower Dragon also supports excellent populations of channel catfish and white catfish, however in recent years blue catfish have begun to replace these two species in the fish community, and anglers can expect to increasing numbers of blue catfish relative to channel and white catfish. In addition, chain pickerel, largemouth bass, various sunfish species, yellow perch, and fairly large-sized white perch can be found in the lower Dragon.

Below the Dragon, the Piankatank is a transition zone. The upper reaches supporting a freshwater assemblage represented by blue, channel, and white catfish, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and sunfish. The lower reaches supporting a primarily saltwater fish assemblage represented by croaker, flounder, spotted trout, spot, and other species typical of the Chesapeake Bay.



In recent years blue catfish have colonized the upper Piankatank and lower Dragon Run. Anglers fishing for catfish can expect to catch increasing numbers of blue cats in this river over time. With blue catfish having the potential to reach extremely large sizes, it is possible anglers will be catching blue catfish over 40 pounds in coming years.

Largemouth bass

This is a relatively small and inaccessible fishery, but recent surveys indicate stable recruitment, extremely high catch rates, and good numbers of largemouth over 15 inches available to those who seek them out. Largemouth are most abundant from Route 17 downstream to the lower end of the no wake zone below Megs Bay, where the river widens considerably and seasonal salinity levels limit largemouth occurrence.

Striped Bass

During both the spring and fall seasons, striped bass, particularly schooling males, can be found in the Piankatank and lower Dragon Run � below Route 17. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) sets season and size-limits for striped bass in this tidal river.

For season information contact VMRC in Newport News at 1-800-541-4646 or on the web at:

Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC)

White Perch

White perch are common throughout the tidal river, but fishing is best in the lower river during spring and summer. White perch can be caught using plastic grubs, beetle spins, or grass shrimp.

Biologist Reports

  • None available at this time.
  • Regulations

    General Regulations

    See the fishing regulations section on the web at: Fishing Regulations

    Blue Catfish

    There is a possession limit of one blue catfish larger than 32 inches per person per day. There is no limit on possession of blue catfish less than 32 inches in Virginia’s tidal rivers.

    Anadromous Species

    Regulations regarding season and creel limits for American shad, hickory shad, river herring, and striped bass 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:

    Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC).

    More Information

    For further information please contact:

    Department of Wildlife Resources
    3801 John Tyler Hwy.
    Charles City, VA 23030

    Phone: (804) 829-6715