James River Fishing: Everything You Need to Know

james river fishing

Summer is a great time to enjoy the wealth of outdoor activities that the Richmond area has to offer. If you’re familiar with Richmond, you probably already know that the James River is a focal point for many of the outdoor adventures available in and around the city. A popular choice for those headed to the James is fishing. James River fishing is sure to be a hit with family and friends as you enjoy each other’s company and the beauty of nature as well as, perhaps, a bit of friendly competition.

Our James River fishing guide will tell you everything you need to know to enjoy fun, safe, and legal fishing on the James.

Getting a Fishing License

First things first, you will need a license to fish in the James River, or any other public waters in Virginia. For fishing in Richmond, you will need a freshwater license, and there are several options to choose from. Note that if you also plan to fish in saltwater areas near the coast, you will need a saltwater license as well.

Virginia residents over the age of 16 are required to have a fishing license. Nonresidents need a license if they are over the age of 12. There are some exceptions to the licensure rules, which can be found at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website.

How to Purchase a License

  • Online at the VDGIF website
  • By phone at (866) 721-6911 Monday – Friday during regular business hours
  • In person at a local license agent or select Circuit Court clerks

License Options

  • The most popular option is an annual resident state freshwater fishing license, which can be purchased for $23.00 and allows you to fish in freshwater rivers and lakes all over the state.
  • You can also opt for a two, three, or four-year license at a slight discount.
  • For residents age 65 and over and annual freshwater license is only $9.00.
  • A county/city resident license permits you to fish only in your county or city of residence and costs $16.00.
  • A resident state freshwater/saltwater fishing license may be the right choice if you plant to fish in a wider variety of locations. The cost is $39.50.
  • If you don’t plant to fish much, a resident 5-day freshwater license may be for you. This license is good for any five consecutive days. $14.00.
  • For the dedicated fishing enthusiast, a lifetime freshwater license may be the right choice. Price varies based on age.
  • Nonresidents can purchase an annual freshwater license for $47.00. 1-day and 5-day nonresident licenses are also available for $8.00 and $21.00 respectively.
  • View a full schedule of fishing licenses and fees at the VDGIF website.

State Freshwater Fishing Regulations

  • Inland fishing must be done by angling with a hook and line or rod and reel.
  • A hand landing net may be used for landing fish in all waters
  • It is illegal to have more than the daily creel limit in your possession while fishing. This includes live fish in your possession.
  • It is illegal to alter any fish you have caught to disguise their kind or size in order to circumvent daily limits or size limits.
  • No fish caught in inland waters may be sold except under special permits for such use.
  • It is illegal to kill, capture, or possess any endangered or threatened species.
  • Anyone who fishes on private property must have the landowner’s permission to do so.
  • Find a full listing of the freshwater fishing regulations on the agency website.

Where to Fish

Once you get your license, you’ll need to decide where you want to fish. There are plenty of great fishing spots along the James River in Richmond where you can make a variety of excellent catches. Find a few of the most popular fishing spots below, along with what you can expect to catch in each location.

If you are new to fishing, you may want to try a guided fishing trip to get started. There are several groups in Richmond who can show you the ropes, including Discover the James and Fish Unlimited.

If you prefer to go it alone, you’ll still need supplies. You can get fishing equipment, from beginner to advanced, at most sporting goods stores. Try Dick’s Sporting Goods, Green Top Hunting and Fishing, or Bass Pro Shops.

Upper and Lower James River

There are two distinct sections of the James River in Richmond, and the selection of fish is quite different in each. The river is divided at the Fall Line located at the 14th Street Bridge. The Fall Line marks the furthest reach of the Atlantic Ocean tides. The Upper James is a truly inland river, while the Lower James, below the Fall Line, is more of a tidal estuary. The selection of fish in each area of the James will differ accordingly.

Upper James Fishing Spots

Huguenot Bridge

From Flatwater Park near the Hugeunot Bridge down the Pony Pasture about a mile and a half east, you can find some great fishing. All along this stretch of the river there are good areas to cast from the shore. There is no motorboat access, but you can bring a canoe or kayak. There is an unpaved boat slide located at Flatwater Park. You can get out to the deeper parts of the river where you may find some great catches if you take this route.

What will you catch here?

  • Brim
  • Bass
  • Channel Catfish
  • Shad

Belle Isle

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown Richmond, there are some great fishing spots at Belle Isle. Belle Isle is also a great location for hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, and more – the perfect place for a weekend adventure. Explore the island’s trails and cast your line from anywhere along the river bank, or bring your canoe or kayak to head out on the water. The south bank of the James near Belle Isle is also a good spot.

What will you catch here?

  • Channel Catfish
  • Striped Bass
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Shad

Robious Landing

Further west towards 288 in Chesterfield, Robious Landing Park is another great fishing location. The park has a boat slide for kayak’s and canoes, and you will likely find the water calmer on this stretch of the river than closer to the Fall Line. You can also find a spot on the trails along the river if you prefer to fish from land.

What will you catch here?

  • Channel Catfish
  • Brim
  • Shad
  • Striper
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Smallmouth Bass

Lower James Fishing Spots

Ancarrow ‘s Landing

If you want motorboat access, this is the spot for you. Ancarrow’s Landing, accessible from Brander Street, has a concrete boat ramp. You can put in here and find excellent fishing for about a mile and a half between Ancarrow’s Landing and the 14th Street Bridge. You can also have a great day of fishing with your canoe or kayak, or by finding a good spot to cast from the riverbank.

What will you catch here?

  • Rockfish
  • White Perch
  • Shad
  • Largemouth Bass

Creel Limits

A few species of fish have no catch limitations, but most species do have limits you must abide by. There may be limits on the number of fish you can catch per day or the length of the fish you are allowed to catch. A full table of catch and length limits can be found here. Limits for some species frequently caught in the James River are listed below.

  • Bass (all varieties) – limit of 5 per day, none between 14 and 22 inches long, and only one greater than 22 inches
  • Perch – no daily limit or length limit
  • Channel Catfish – 20 per day, no length limit

Got a fish story for us? Let us know below! And don’t forget to share with friends and family!


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