The Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries join to form the largest and most productive estuarine complexes in North America. They supply a vast amount of nutrients into coastal waters and provide a huge spawning and nursery area for many species of fish. The tidal waters formed by the Bay and its tributaries cover over 2400 square miles and form habitats that welcome over 30 species of finfish.
In the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia Coast, the warm waters of the Gulf Stream flow north along the East Coast until they collide with the cool, plankton-rich waters of the Labrador Current flowing south. The intermixing of these currents puts the southern coast of Virginia in the dynamic area where the Mid-Atlantic Bight and South Atlantic Bight are joined. Those conditions bring a huge mix of finfish species into Virginia’s offshore waters. In fact, Virginia is the southernmost range of real abundance for many temperate species of fish and the northern range of abundance for many subtropical species.
The large peninsula that forms the Eastern Shore of Virginia is flanked by a chain of uninhabited and unspoiled barrier islands, creating yet another unique habitat. These islands protect a rich complex of marshes, bays and sounds that provide a haven for a variety of marine life.
The table below shows the times of year selected recreational species are available in Virginia waters. Because fish migratory timing is most affected by water temperature and the presence of prey species, these estimates can vary several weeks in either direction due to unusual weather patterns.
Content on this page is adapted from The Virginia Saltwater Angler’s Guide published by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Funding for the Guide was provided by salt water recreational fishing license fees.