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Virginia Saltwater Fishing

Updated on October 7, 2014

Information about Virginia Saltwater Fishing

This page is about inshore and offshore saltwater fishing along the coast of Virginia and fishing in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia anglers fish for saltwater species such as striped bass, gray trout (weakfish), Atlantic croaker, spot, red drum, black drum, cobia, flounder, kingfish, porgy, sheepshead, tautog, black sea bass, monkfish, hake, bluefish, tuna, marlin, wahoo, dolphin fish, king mackerel, sharks, grouper, tilefish and other species.

Anglers fish from the surf, shorelines, fishing piers, private boats, kayaks, charter boats, head boats or with professional guides.

Virginia Striped Bass - Rockfish

Striped bass are the most popular inshore saltwater fish in Virginia. Also known as striped bass or stripers, these are very hardy fish, and even take to life in freshwater and are stocked in some Virginia lakes. Rigs and baits for Virginia striped bass vary with location and season.

Anglers fish live baits such as spot and eels or troll, jig, cast artificial lures and fly fish for striped bass around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The action is nearly year round with populations of local fish as well as surges of migrating fish.

Striped bass vary from around 18 inches to monster fish that may weigh over 50 lbs. During the winter months anglers come to Virginia Beach from all over to enjoy some of the best striped bass fishing in the world.

Virginia Saltwater Fishing Links

Resources for fishing the waters of Virginia, including fishing websites, news, fishing reports, fishing charters, flounder fishing, deep sea fishing, guides, charter boats, accommodations, and more.

doormat flounder
doormat flounder

Virginia Flounder Fishing

Virginia is well known for excellent flounder fishing opportunities. Fishing varies with season, weather, tides, location and water quality.

Several key factors affect spring flounder fishing. Water temperature seems to play a critical role in the spring. A rule of thumb is to find water temperature above 55 degrees although fish are sometimes caught in cooler water.

Tides and currents are also big factors and every serious angler has their preferred state of tide for a given location.

Flounder fishing changes as the water warms. The movements of flounder decrease and anglers settle into a summer pattern, enjoying the warm days on the bay.

In mid-summer, flounder are sometimes caught on the many wrecks, shoals and artificial reefs along the coast. Fishing is sporadic but catches can be good when flounder are located. The Artificial reefs off the coast of Virginia yield some excellent catches of flounder. In summer, flounder are also caught by anglers fishing the surf. This fishery requires only a rod, rod holder and basic tackle, no boat is needed!

Virginia Gray Trout Fishing

Gray Trout have a dark olive back, iridescent blue and copper sides and a silvery white belly. Other identifying features are yellow fins, large canine teeth in the upper jaw and dark spots on the upper part of the body, sometimes forming diagonal lines.

Most adult gray trout range from 12 to 18 inches but can grow up to to 3 feet long and weigh 4-18 pounds.

Gray trout are also called "weakfish" which comes from the fish's fragile mouth, which tears easily when hooked.

Gray trout are members of the drum family, which includes spot, red drum, back drum and Atlantic croaker. This family of fish make a drumming or croaking sound by vibrating its swim bladder using special muscles.

Virginia Black Drum Fishing

Black drum are heavy bodied fish with barbels or whiskers under the chin. Younger fish have four or five dark vertical bars on their sides but the stripes tend to fade with age. The coloration of backs and sides varies although drum usually have a white belly. Black drum can exceed 100 pounds!

Black drum are members of the croaker family and is related to the Atlantic croaker, red drum, and spotted seatrout. A characteristic of this family of fish is the ability to produce croaking or drumming sounds with the air bladder, which is the reason for the common names croaker and drum. This ability is most developed in the black drum and anglers can sometime hear sounds from schools passing near their boats.

Black drum are most plentiful in May when they migrate into the lower Chesapeake Bay. They are caught near the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel and other areas where mussel beds exist. Anglers fish with clam or crab baits during the day and into the night. Black drum are sometimes caught together with red drum using the same baits and tackle.

Virginia Croaker Fishing

Atlantic croaker are popular saltwater fish caught around Virginia Beach. Croaker or "hardhead" are named because of the "croaking" noise they make.

Croakers fight hard and prolific feeders. They are caught on baits such as squid, crabs, clams or bloodworms. Croakers are often found in large schools and may be caught in large numbers. Tidewater area anglers catch them around the Hampton Tunnel, Chesapeake Bay Bridge, along the ocean front and other spots.

Fishing on the piers of Hampton Roads is an excellent technique for targeting big Virginia croakers. By late July and early August, piers such as the Virginia Beach pier and the Seagull pier sometimes experience unbelievable catches of croakers and spot. Mixed in with the spot and croaker runs are Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, pigfish and other species.

Summer and early fall is prime time for catching big croakers in Virginia. As summer heats up, croaker school up and are caught in ever increasing numbers from boats, jetties and Virginia's piers. Anglers need only a sensitive rod and reel in good condition, bottom rigs and baits such as bloodworms, squid strips, pieces of shrimp, cut peeler crab or any of the bait products such as fish bites.

Croaker fishing often gets better and better thru September. Many anglers prefer the fall as the summer crowds have left and the temperatures are cooler. During the fall runs, croaker are joined by bluefish, sea trout, rockfish and others.

More Virginia Inshore Fish

Bluefish

Bluefish are commonly caught in Virginia waters. They are sometimes found in large numbers off the Virginia coast. Bluefish are aggressive feeders and are known for their sharp teeth and ability to destroy even the strongest tackle. Anglers troll, jig, cast artificial lures and fly fish for bluefish. The fish have dark, oily meat but are excellent smoked.

Red Drum

Red drum can be caught in a number of ways out of Virginia Beach. A popular technique for catching red drum along the coast is to anchor along a channel edge or shoal and bottom fish with cut spot, menhaden, peeler crab or other baits. Anglers use a fish finder or other rig and sometimes fish into the evening for large bull red drum. A second fishery around Virginia Beach and the lower bay exists for "puppy drum" which are smaller red drum. These fish are exciting to catch, usually by casting artificial lures around structure or by fishing baits in shallow water areas.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass are among the most popular fish caught off Virginia Beach and the Tidewater area. Anglers fish year round for this exceptionally delicious fish, although the fish migrate to deeper water in winter. Peak fishing is usually May and early June and again in the fall. In the spring, wrecks, reefs and rough bottom in depths of 50 - 80 feet usually hold the most fish. Bigger fish can sometimes be enticed by using larger baits. Favorite rigs for bigger fish include single hook rigs with a whole squid for bait, large bucktail jigs with squid strips and large metal jigs. The larger baits often catch fish with a higher average weight. Black sea bass are excellent cooked. The meat is firm, white and delicious and can be fried, grilled, baked or broiled.

Spot

Spot occur in the Chesapeake Bay and along Virginia estuaries and coastal waters. Spot are fun to catch and a great fish for anglers of all ages. Spot are caught using standard 2 hook rigs, using small hooks and small pieces of bait. Popular baits include bloodworms, shrimp, clam and synthetic bloodworm type baits. Spot may also be caught with small jigs or Sabiki rigs. Anglers seek spot both as a baitfish and because of their excellent value as a seafood delicacy.

Tautog

Tautog live in structure such as rocky bottoms, wreckages and reefs. Their preference for structure makes them an ideal inshore species when fishing in the lower Chesapeake Bay and along the Virginia coast. Tackle and techniques are simple and no prior experience is needed to catch these tasty fish. They vary in size from about 12 inches to perhaps 12 lbs or more. They are very tough fighters and excellent table fare.

White Perch

White perch are small but tenacious fish that live in brackish waters such as rivers, creeks and bays. White perch prefer water with about 18% salinity but can live in environments that range from fresh water to fully saltwater. These hardy fish have been known to live over 15 years. The fish are caught with small baits such as grass shrimp or bloodworms, or by casting artificial lures or flies.

Virginia Offshore Fishing

The waters off Virginia offer a variety of opportunities for offshore fishermen. Bottom fishermen catch tautog or sea bass over local shipwrecks and artificial reefs.

Farther out, bluefish, sharks, cobia, king mackerel, bonita, and false albacore caught during the summer season. By mid-June, tuna often appear off the coast. Bluefin tuna prefer cooler water and usually arrive first. Not far behind are yellowfin tuna, dolphinfish, wahoo, and other pelagic species.

Anglers troll for tuna and other deep sea species as far out as Washington, Poorman's and Norfolk Canyons. Some of these trips can exceed 70 nautical miles although good fishing is often just 25-30 nautical miles from home.

By October, most offshore fishing has ended and many anglers switch to striped bass fishing which continues throughout the winter months.

Virginia Swordfish - A Comeback Story

Swordfish have made a return to the waters off the coast of Virginia. These fish have tremendous strength and stamina, testing the limits of the most experienced anglers. Swordfish may vary from perhaps 4-10 feet in length, reaching weights of several hundred pounds and rarely exceeding 1000 pounds. Swordfish are found in the deeper offshore waters, feeding in extreme depths during the day and coming near the surface at night. Like marlin, swordfish move with temperature changes, becoming most common in late summer and fall.

Swordfish are caught mostly at night, in the deeper areas of the Virginia offshore canyons. On overnight trips, anglers typically set one or more lines at various depths. Nighttime swordfish rigs usually consist of a large circle or Southern tuna hook on a cable leader. Swordfish baits include whole squid, mackerel or other small fish. A glow stick is added to the leader a few feet above the bait. Inline weights may also be added on the line to control the depth of the bait.

As for swordfish, the decision to kill or release a legal sized swordfish is usually a matter of personal preference. The American swordfish fishery is one of the few fishery management success stories, with a recent comeback of the fish after their stocks plummeted due to overfishing. Hopefully future harvests will remain within reason and Virginia will enjoy good fishing for all 3 species of billfish.

Virginia Fishing Articles - Fish Species and Techniques

This list of articles cover Virginia saltwater fish species, baits, rigs, tips, techniques, and recipes.

Virginia Institute of Marine Science White Marlin Study

A Virginia Institute of Marine Science study on white marlin uncovered information on where they spend the majority of their day and how deep they actually go.

The white marlin study also found a big difference in survival between fish caught on circle hooks (58 of 59 survived; <2% post-release mortality) as compared to J-hooks (13 of 20 survived; 35% post-release mortality).

Virginia Fly Fishing Festival

The Virginia Fly Fishing Festival is held outside each spring on the banks of the South River in Waynesboro, Virginia. The Fishing Festival draws anglers from across the Mid-Atlantic with nonstop free lectures and tips on where, when, and how to fly fish in the Old Dominion and across the globe as well as wine-tasting and live music. The festival is a one-stop shop for gear, expert advice, and even instruction. It is the largest fly fishing event in Virginia.

Virginia Saltwater Fishing Comments

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    • ToaSamoa profile image

      ToaSamoa 4 years ago

      cool poster.......love the info.....

    • craftycollector profile image

      craftycollector 4 years ago

      Love the posters

    • profile image

      teakforboats 5 years ago

      Great Lens. Wish I was there to fish : )

    • HenkWillemse profile image

      HenkWillemse 5 years ago

      I would love to get to Virginia oneday to experience the fishing it has to offer

    • profile image

      VillaDejaBlue 5 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • waldenthreenet profile image

      waldenthreenet 5 years ago

      Love the photos and been to a few places as you have described. We both live in Virgnia. My topic is complimentary.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 5 years ago

      I love fishing too, it's great to take the kids too...like the lens

    • profile image

      mennella 6 years ago

      great lens, really, complete and informative...

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      You seem to be an expert on fishing. Great lens

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My friends talk about this a lot. Maybe when we find the time. I just love seafood especially fresh crabs eaten in the beach not in a restaurant. I just can`t enjoy it in a restaurant.

    • roamingrosie profile image

      roamingrosie 8 years ago

      Great lens! Lots of good information and tips. I've fished in Maryland and Virginia, and I've enjoyed it - but it's hard not to, since it's so pretty!

    • profile image

      Hookbait 8 years ago

      That a lot of fishing info - and some great fish!

    • grayth lm profile image

      grayth lm 8 years ago

      Never fished virginia but would sure love to one day, great lens lots of information thanks, I have a fishing lens as well on fishing tackle making