You’ve decided to take on bowfishing in the state of Virginia, but you don’t know where to begin. Luckily, I’ve put together this guide from my experience of bowfishing in Virginia and all the things that you need to know along with where you can go bowfishing while here. Like in some of the other East Coast states, Virginia gives you some great opportunities for bowfishing, and I’ll highlight where you can go bowfishing here as well, so stay tuned for the best bowfishing spots in the Mother of States.
Bowfishing Laws: Is Bowfishing Legal in Virginia?
Under Virginia state law, you can bowfish for the following species:
- Grass carp
- Longnose gar
You can also bowfish for catfish and bowfin in tidal waters below the fall line. Some species may have limits on how much you can take, so check ahead of time before you target a species. Generally speaking, this protects the native fish species, but they won’t impose limits on invasive species like carp and snakehead. You can shoot as many of those as you’d like.
For example, for bowfin and longnose gar, you can take five each from July 1st to April 14th. You can only shoot one fish from each of the species from April 15th to June 30th. That matters and you should beware of the differences between a bowfin and a snakehead because they can be easily confused if you don’t know what to look for. Imagine shooting what you thought were 20 snakeheads, only to have the DNR argue with you that you shot 18 bowfin and 2 snakeheads.
Before you can go bowfishing in Virginia, you must buy a fishing license if 16 or older, except for those over 65 years old. If you’ve already got one for regular fishing, this won’t pose a problem.
Like in most of the other states, you won’t need anything else to go bowfishing in Virginia other than a fishing license. If you plan to bowfish in saltwater, you will need a saltwater bowfishing license rather than a freshwater fishing license. The Virginia bowfishing regulations can be tricky, but think about spearfishing rules here, and they basically apply the same rules to bowfishing.
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Should You Choose One of the Bowfishing Guides in Virginia?
Especially if you have never bowfished before, you may find it worth it to go bowfishing with a guide. They can direct you to the best areas so that you can shoot some fish. Otherwise, you’ll be tasked with finding them yourself, which for a first-timer might be difficult. You could also go with a buddy who knows the sport. If you don’t have a bowfishing bow, you may wish to get one. I wrote an article here on bowfishing bows.
When you go to choose a guide, check to see if they provide the equipment or if you need to buy it yourself. You will also want to know about the fish that they target. Some will specialize in specific fish like catfish. This expertise matters because they should know how to target those species better than the general bowfishermen.
Some guides will even clean the fish for you, so think about everything included in the bowfishing package. The cheaper guides may not include everything that you’d like.
When are the Best Times to Go After the Stingray?
The best time to target the stingray for bowfishing in Virginia is from May through to the later part of August. In some cases, it will be until the middle, but it just depends on the year. June marks out the best time to target the stingray in Virginia because of their breeding during this time. For the southern stingray, you can hit them pretty much all summer from June to August.
Bowfishing for Snakehead in Virginia
Bowfishing in Virginia is especially popular right along the Maryland-Virginia border with the tributaries being popular. If you know anything about Maryland, they struggle with an invasive species called the northern snakehead, and Virginia has this problem as well. However, it makes for some fun bowfishing because unlike bowfishing for carp or bowfin, snakehead actually tastes good.
Bowfishing for snakehead in Virginia is just as popular as it is in Maryland, and many bowfishermen love to target this fish. Unfortunately, some people mistake bowfin for snakeheads. Bowfin are native to the United States, unlike the snakehead, which comes from Southeast Asia.
The one thing to be aware of when you bowfish for snakehead in Virginia is that you can’t bowfish for them in trout-stocked waters.
Where to Go Bowfishing in Virginia?
Carp, gar and stingrays have all become popular species to target along the coast for bowfishing. Just ask an officer if you feel confused about the saltwater regulations because of how it can be a little murky in this area.
For the best bowfishing areas, you would choose the following areas:
- Virginia Beach
- James River
- Rappahannock River
- Occoquan River
- Dogue Creek
- Pomonkey Creek
- Pamunkey River
The Chesapeake Bay area has some great bowfishing opportunities. In particular, you will find it most valuable to target the stingray population here since they have them in abundance in this region. Most of this is best done during the daytime shooting. You will encounter cownose stingrays that you can shoot in 1 foot of water.
You can also shoot southern stingrays in Virginia Beach, which tend to be larger, but they tend to lurk right at the bottom of the water, making them harder to hit in the deeper water.
The mouth of the Potomac starts in the Chesapeake Bay, so of course, you will encounter some great bowfishing opportunities. They have had snakehead tournaments on the Potomac. Beware of where you bowfish here because some areas are off-limits. For example, if you bowfish at Hog Island, the United States Park Police can take everything you had. That area is off-limits for bowfishing.
Anywhere where there’s a park, it’s best to avoid bowfishing there since they prohibit bowfishing at some of the state parks.
This river is situated near Richmond, Virginia, and on the Chesapeake Bay, blue catfish (the largest of the catfish species), are considered an invasive species. Most experts believe that the blue catfish are stopping the shad recovery. Gar and carp are also in abundance on the James River.
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You can especially shoot carp along the Rappahannock River, but they have snakeheads here as well. If you’d like to find some of the action around here, check out near the Little Falls Boat Ramp. They have a tournament on the Rappahannock River called the “Grill and Kill.” If you’d like to participate, head over to Ashland, Virginia, where you can compete in four categories that include: biggest snakehead, biggest carp, biggest catfish and smallest fish.
If you do decide to do Occoquan River, just remember that some areas of this place are off-limits to weapons. Know where you’re at at all times. You might head to the other areas where it’s legal to shoot some blue catfish. You can also shoot gar and snakehead on the Occoquan.
Again, this is one of the locations where you can shoot some snakeheads. It’s even likely that when snakeheads were first released into the Potomac River, they did it through Dogue Creek. Just be aware of the authorized areas for bowfishing since Virginia likes to tell you where you can and can’t bowfish. They put a lot of regulations on this.
Pomonkey Creek is a small creek, but it’s loaded with snakeheads. In general, if you want to target snakeheads, all the creeks on the Potomac will give you tons of shooting opportunities. Pomonkey in the native tribe’s tongue means, “Sloping land.” This is a more remote nature-based creek, and the lack of a boat ramp on the creek may account for the reasons of why fewer people bowfish this one. If you catch a good spot here, you might have it all to yourself.
I highlight this one because it’s a definite must-try if you’d like to target blue catfish. Jason Emmel of Louisa, Virginia, shot a 66-pound blue catfish that he got from the Pamunkey River on July 19th, 2022. You have some state records lurking in the water here that make it worth the effort.
There’s been a recent increase in state records being shot for catfish here. The recent increase in the catfish shooting records may be explained because this is another invasive species in Virginia that’s taking over. While blue catfish are native to Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio, they have wreaked havoc upon the ecosystem of Virginia where they’re not native, making them another great fish to target.
Virginia has its share of opportunities for those who would like to try bowfishing. I highlighted some of the best areas where you might head to do some bowfishing. Hopefully, this will help you in your bowfishing adventures. If you enjoyed this guide on how to bowfish in Virginia, feel free to check out some of my other state guides. I wrote about Maryland and North Carolina, which both share a border with Virginia. If you’re looking for two other states where you could go bowfishing, check out those guides on the best places bowfish in those states.