Chesapeake, Va., boasts 22 miles of fishing waters

Fran Severn

With 22 miles of both fresh and salt waterways, including the Intracoastal Waterway, stocked lakes, and even opportunities for kayak fishing, the biggest problem for anglers in Chesapeake, Va., is deciding where to fish next.

And, it’s not just fishing to idle away the time. Chesapeake is one of the top trophy speckled trout fisheries in the country, and the only one on the East Coast. It boasts some of the highest numbers of saltwater gamefish citations in the commonwealth. Giant speckled trout that weigh from 8 to 10 pounds lazily patrol the Elizabeth River as they wait for an irresistible insect to land on the water. Unfortunately for them, that bug is often a skillfully tied artificial lure.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department works to make fishing available and fun for everyone — newcomers wetting a line for the first time, families building memories together, dedicated anglers with boats equipped with state-of-the-art fish finders, or kayakers who paddle to favorite fishing spots unreachable any other way.

One of the most popular fishing spots is Northwest River Park and Campground. As part of the statewide Urban Trout Fishing Program, Lake Lesa is stocked with more than 2,500 rainbow and brown trout throughout the fall and winter.

“It’s a really great place to introduce newcomers to fishing,” said chief ranger Dave Dickerson. “It’s not a very large lake, so you have a good chance of catching something. The fish we stock are all keeper size, although some people like to ‘catch and release.’ You can fish from the bank, and you don’t need a lot of equipment.”

Nearby bait and tackle shops rent or sell what you will need, including tackle and rods, and rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats. The lake is equally as popular with motor boaters who drop lines for crappie, catfish, bass, and bluegill.

The boat ramp at Elizabeth River Park is one of the busiest in Coastal Virginia. While licenses are required for fishing everywhere else, the park’s ADA-compliant pier is a “license-free zone.”

It’s a whole different experience at Lake Drummond in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The second-largest natural freshwater lake in Virginia, it has a population of crappie, perch, and bullhead catfish, among other species.

But, the real attraction here is the bowfish, a survivor from prehistoric times that has both gills and primitive lungs. With an average size of about 5 pounds, it’s not very large, but it’s known as a fierce fighter that will battle hard.

Kayak fishing is increasingly popular, particularly along the Intracoastal Waterway, where the ocean saltwater and river freshwater blend, creating deep water canals and dozens of “fishin’ holes.” Unlike fishing from a fixed spot on the riverbank or lake side, kayakers can easily move to new locations and explore tributaries inaccessible to boaters.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department’s website has individual listings of each park, a list of boat ramps, information on which fish live where, licensing information, and links to a lot more information.

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Chesapeake, Virginia

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