Harvesting or collecting fish by any of the following methods listed in this section requires a freshwater fishing license. It shall be unlawful to take, possess, import, cause to be imported, export, cause to be exported, buy, sell, offer for sale or liberate within the Commonwealth any wild animal unless otherwise specifically permitted by law or regulation. Native or naturalized albino reptiles, native or naturalized albino amphibians, and any domestic animals may be imported, possessed, and sold. A list of domestic animals and the Department’s official listing of “Native and Naturalized Fauna of Virginia” is available from this website.
Native and Naturalized Species
(see exceptions for certain species below)
Personal Use & Not for Sale
- 1 – native or naturalized (reptile or amphibian) per residency that is not listed in Virginia’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan
- 20 – Nongame Fish and Aquatic Invertebrates
- No possession allowed. Threatened and endangered species, freshwater mussels, candy darter, eastern hellbender, diamondback terrapin, and spotted turtle.
- No possession limits – can be possessed in unlimited numbers. Carp, mullet, yellow bullhead, brown bullhead, black bullhead, snail bullhead, white sucker, northern hogsucker, gizzard shad, threadfin shad, white perch, yellow perch (10 fish limit in Lake Moomaw), alewife and blueback herring [see limits under Anadromous (coastal) in Creel (Harvest) and Length Limits table], stoneroller (hornyhead), fathead minnow, golden shiner, goldfish, and Asian clams.
- See Creel (Harvest) and Length Limits for anadromous (coastal) shad and herring limits.
- Fish bait: minnows and chubs (Cyprinidae), crayfish, and hellgrammites—50 in aggregate (all species combined) unless said person has purchased fish bait and has a receipt specifying the number of individuals purchased by species. Note: Madtoms, crayfish, and salamanders cannot be bought or sold.
- Bullfrogs – 15 per day.
- Snapping turtles – 5 per day, only from June 1 to September 30. Cannot be taken from the banks or waters of designated stocked trout waters.
- Native amphibians and reptiles that are captured within the Commonwealth and possessed live for private use and not for sale may be liberated under the following conditions:
- Period of captivity does not exceed 30 days;
- Animals must be liberated at the site of capture;
- Animals must have been housed separately from other wild-caught and domestic animals; and
- Animals that demonstrate symptoms of disease or illness or that have sustained injury during their captivity may not be released.
Methods to Capture or Take General Methods:
- Except as provided for under “Other Methods” and except in any waters where the use of nets is prohibited, the species listed in the previous section (Possession Limits) may only be taken by hand, hook and line, with a seine not exceeding 4 feet in depth by 10 feet in length, an umbrella-type net not exceeding 5 by 5 feet square, small minnow traps with throat openings no larger than 1 inch in diameter, cast nets, and handheld bow nets with diameter not to exceed 20 inches and handle length not to exceed 8 feet.
- Gizzard shad and white perch may also be taken from below the fall line in all tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay using a gill net in accordance with Virginia Marine Resources Commission recreational fishing regulations.
- Bullfrogs may also be taken by gigging or bow and arrow and from private waters by firearms no larger than .22 caliber rimfire. Taking bullfrogs with a gig, .22 caliber rimfire, or bow and arrow requires a hunting license.
- Snapping turtles may be taken for personal use with hoop nets not exceeding 6 feet in length with a throat opening not exceeding 36 inches. Taking turtles by hook and line requires a fishing license.
It is illegal to use SCUBA (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear to take or attempt to take fish.
Trotlines, juglines (noodles) or set poles (limb lines)
These may be used to take nongame fish and turtles provided they are not baited with live bait (worms are permissible), except on designated stocked trout waters, Department-owned lakes, and within 600 feet of any dam. Live bait other than game fish may be used on trot lines to take catfish in Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe counties, and in the Clinch River in Russell, Scott, and Wise counties. (See South Holston Reservoir.)
Any person setting or possessing the above equipment shall have it clearly marked by permanent means with his or her name, address, and telephone number, and is required to check all lines and remove all fish and animals caught each day.
Remove all trotlines, juglines, or set poles (limb lines) from public waters when not in use.
Additional requirements for juglines (also called “noodles”): Defined as a single hook, including one treble hook, and line attached to a float. Jugline/noodle sets on public waters shall be restricted to 20 per angler and must be attended (within sight) by anglers at all times. Also, in addition to being labeled with the angler’s name, address and telephone number, jugs/noodles shall also be labeled with a reflective marker that encircles the jugs/noodles to allow for visibility at night.
Bow and Arrow (including crossbows)
These may be used to take common carp, grass carp, northern snakehead, and gar (fishing license required) during day and night hours (24 hrs.), except from waters stocked with trout. Bowfin and catfish may be taken in tidal waters (below Fall Line). Spearguns poisoned arrows are prohibited. Snakehead must be immediately killed and reported to DWR.
Must comply with creel limits on fish.
Snagging, grabbing, snaring, gigging, and the use of a striking iron
These are legal methods to take nongame fish in certain waters in certain counties as follows (see table in Creel and Length Limits for certain nongame fish limits):
- In the waters of the following counties [except public impoundments, the Roanoke (Staunton) and Dan Rivers, and those waters stocked by the Department]: Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Goochland (except James River), Greensville, Halifax, Louisa, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Pittsylvania, and Prince Edward.
- It shall be lawful to take nongame fish by gig or fishing spear from a position above the surface of the water on those portions below the fall line of the Rappahannock River and its tributaries and the Potomac River and its tributaries. A fishing spear is defined as an implement with a shaft and sharp point or tines designed to be thrusted or thrown by hand.
- From April 1 through May 15 and October 1 through November 30 during the daytime in the following waters: Buchanan County, all waters except Dismal River; Grayson County, New River; Lee County, Powell River; Russell County, Clinch River; Scott County, Clinch River and its tributaries; Tazewell County, Dry Run Creek; Wise County, Clinch River; and Washington County, Middle Fork and South Fork of the Holston River. Creel limit: 20 suckers per day.
- Snagging for carp and suckers during April in Wolf and Big Walkers Creek in Giles County.
- Snagging for carp and suckers in Walkers Creek, Wolf Creek and the North Fork of the Holston in Bland County.
- Bow and arrow and gigging for carp yearround in the Shenandoah River.
- Shooting with a rifle for suckers and carp from April 15 to May 31 during daylight hours in the shoals of the Clinch River within the limits of Scott County, except that it shall be unlawful to shoot fish on Sunday or within the limits of any town, or from any bridge. Fishing license is required.
Creel limit: 20 per day.
Dip nets may be used to take shad, herring, mullet and suckers except in designated stocked trout waters, Department-owned or controlled lakes, in certain waters where anadromous shad and herring cannot be possessed (see page 25 for shad and herring limits), and as restricted below. The user and all helpers (regardless of age) must have dip net permits ($4.50) or valid fishing license. Permits are valid in the county’s inland waters for which issued. All other fish species taken are to be immediately returned to the water alive.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission enacted a ban on the possession of river herring in tidal waters, effective January 1, 2012, due to the collapse of the stock and in order to comply with an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission directive.
Suckers Taken with Dip Nets
Limit of 20 per day.
Season: February 15– May 15.
Dip nets shall not be more than 6 feet square.
Dip net permits are not required for taking suckers in Brunswick, Greensville, and Sussex counties.
Nets and Seines
Nets and Seines are prohibited while fishing in designated stocked trout waters and for taking fish from Department-owned or controlled lakes, except as otherwise posted (see table page 20 for certain nongame fish limits). The use of nets and seines, except for hand-landing nets and cast (throw) nets, is prohibited in the public waters of the Roanoke (Staunton) and Dan rivers in Campbell, Charlotte, Halifax and Pittsylvania counties, and in the City of Danville.
Seines, nets, and traps are also prohibited in Lick Creek in Smyth and Bland counties, Bear Creek in Smyth County, Laurel Creek and tributaries upstream of Highway 16 bridge in Tazewell and Bland counties, streams and their tributaries that flow into Hungry Mother Lake in Smyth County, Susong Branch and Mumpower Creek in Washington County and the City of Bristol, and Timbertree Branch in Scott County. However, these restrictions do not prohibit the use of a hand-landing net to land fish legally hooked.
Seasons and local restrictions governing the use of nets and seines are complex. Persons deciding to try this type of fishing should contact the closest DWR regional office for more information.
See “Legal Methods for Capturing Nongame Bait” for additional information on bait collecting.
Designated Stocked Trout Waters
Nongame fish may be harvested only by hook and line in designated stocked trout waters between October 1 and June 15.
Unlawful to take the spiny riversnail (Io fluvialis) in the Tennessee drainage in Virginia (Clinch, Powell and the North, South and Middle Forks of the Holston rivers and tributaries).
It shall be unlawful to take mussels from any inland waters in Virginia.
Unlawful to take salamanders in Grayson Highlands State Park and on National Forest lands in the Jefferson National Forest in those portions of Grayson, Smyth and Washington counties bounded on the east by Rt. 16, on the north by Rt. 603, and on the south and west by Rt. 58.
Non-Native (Exotic Animals)
A special permit is required, and may be issued by the Department, if consistent with the Department’s fish and wildlife management program, to import, possess, or sell the following non-native (exotic) amphibians, fish, mollusks, aquatic invertebrates, and reptiles: giant or marine toad, tongueless or African clawed frog, barred tiger salamander, gray tiger salamander, blotched tiger salamander, smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth buffalo, black buffalo, piranhas, Alabama bass, bighead carp, grass carp or white amur, red shiner, silver carp, black carp, rudd, tench, ruffe, snakeheads, air-breathing catfish, tilapia, swamp eel, tubenose goby, round goby, zebra mussel, New Zealand mudsnail, quagga mussel, rusty crayfish, Australian crayfish, marbled crayfish, Chinese mitten crab, alligators, caimans, brown tree snake, crocodiles, and gavials.
Anglers may legally possess snakehead fish taken from Virginia waters provided they immediately kill the fish and notify DWR at 804-367-2925.
Anglers may possess live Alabama bass only on the body of water from which they were captured, and may not transport them alive from the body of water that they were captured. Live Alabama bass may only be released into the body of water from which they are captured. Anglers must ensure all harvested Alabama bass are dead if they plan to transport them away from the body of water from which they were captured.
Grass carp may be legally harvested from public inland waters (rivers and streams), except from department-owned or department-controlled lakes. Anglers must ensure that all harvested grass carp are dead.
All other non-native (exotic) amphibians, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and reptiles not listed above may be possessed, purchased, and sold, provided that such animals shall be subject to all applicable local, state, and federal laws and regulations, including those that apply to threatened/endangered species, and further provided that such animals shall not be liberated within the Commonwealth.
Leave Snakes Alone
Under Virginia law, snakes are classified as a nongame species and are afforded protection under nongame regulations. While killing snakes is not a permitted activity, they can be taken (except for state or federally listed species) when classified as a “Nuisance species” (29.1-100); when found committing or about to commit depredation upon agricultural or property damage, or when concentrated in numbers and manners to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance. For example, if a blacksnake is found in your chicken coop, you have the legal right to kill it; or if a copperhead is found in your garage, you have the legal right to kill it. But to wantonly go out and shoot snakes when they are not posing an imminent threat to human safety or livestock is an unlawful activity. Snakes play a valuable role in our ecosystems as both predator and prey, and killing them for no justifiable reason is contrary to the conservation mission of the Department.