Shenandoah National Park contains over 90 mountain streams and their minor tributaries that serve as high quality sources for three of Virginia’s ten major drainages: Potomac, Rappahannock, and James. Over 70 of those streams contain fish, and most of those 70 contain native brook trout. Shenandoah’s streams support diverse aquatic resources including 40 fish species and hundreds of species of aquatic insects. Shenandoah National Park relies on natural fish spawning for our populations. No fish are stocked, and all fish are wild. Monitoring and protecting water quality and aquatic life is an essential part of the Park’s stewardship mission. Visitors who enjoy recreational fishing are also an important part of that mission.
Shenandoah’s Fishery Management Plan has two objectives: (1) to preserve and perpetuate native brook trout as a key component of the Park’s aquatic ecosystems; and (2) to allow for recreational fishing on those Park streams that consistently produce adequate numbers of gamefish for maintaining population stability. Park Service Regulations and Shenandoah National Park policies are designed to achieve these objectives.
We want you, and those who come after you, to have an enjoyable time fishing in Shenandoah. Please take some time to explore, learn what the park has to offer, and learn your responsibilities before casting a line or flicking a fly into the water. The following regulations provide recreational opportunities and protect Shenandoah’s aquatic resources so that future generations can enjoy the challenge of fishing in Shenandoah National Park.
Anglers 16 years of age and older are required to possess a valid Virginia State fishing license.
A state trout license is not needed.
There is not a separate park-issued permit required to fish within the Park.
Virginia has “Resident” and “Non-Resident” licenses as well as 5 day or one-year licenses of each. There are several licensing exceptions:
Resident, active-duty members of the armed forces while on official leave. They must have a copy of their Military Orders in their possession.
Legally blind persons.
Any Indian who “habitually” resides on an Indian reservation or a member of the Virginia-recognized tribes who resides in the Commonwealth is not required to have a freshwater license; however, such Indian must have on his person an identification card or paper signed by the chief of his tribe, a valid tribal identification card, written confirmation through a central tribal registry, or certificate from a tribal office.
Any person not fishing but aiding a disabled license holder.
All park streams are open to catch and release fishing. Fishing regulations are established by 36 CFR 2.3 and by the Park Superintendent’s Compendium, and all nonconflicting Commonwealth of Virginia regulations apply.
Click here for a printable brochure with these regulations, which can also be found at park entrance stations and visitor centers.
The following are prohibited:
Fishing in waters within the park boundary by means other than an artificial lure having one single point hook. Multiple single hook lures (such as dropper flies) fished in a series are permitted.
Fishing while in possession of organic bait, including but not limited to:
-Live or dead minnows
-Preserved or non-preserved fish eggs
-Chemical compounds including pheromones, liquid scents and power baits.
Possessing or failing to return immediately and release any fish, unless otherwise noted in this section, caught in the waters within the boundary of Shenandoah National Park except for the following waters and their tributaries where harvesting is permitted:
-Piney River, Rappahannock County
-Thornton River, South Fork, Rappahannock County
-Hughes River, Madison County
-Brokenback Run, Madison County
-Cedar Run, Madison County
-Rose River, Madison County
-Whiteoak Canyon Run, Madison County
-Jeremys Run, Page County
-Hawksbill Creek (East), Page County
-Hawksbill Creek (Little), Page County
-Naked Creek (East), Page County
-Naked Creek (West), Page County
-South River, Greene County
-Ivy Creek, Greene County
-Conway River, Madison/Greene Counties
-Big Run, Rockingham County
-Doyles River, Albemarle County
Possessing brook trout less than nine (9) inches in length while fishing within the park boundary.
Possessing brown trout or rainbow trout less than seven (7) inches in length while fishing within the park boundary.
Releasing any captured brown or rainbow trout back into any park stream. Brown trout or rainbow trout less than the 7-inch minimum or caught in streams closed to harvest must be disposed of in a manner and location as not to be visible from any stream, park road or trail.
Snagging fish by pulling or jerking a hook, lure, or other implement through the water.
Fishing with more than one line per person.
Additional NPS regulations can be found here, and you can learn more about fishing regulations the National Park Service at the Fish & Fishing website.
Fish Consumption Advisories in National Park Waters
The Environmental Protection Agency, states, territories, and tribes provide advice on fish and shellfish caught in the waters in their jurisdiction to help people make informed decisions about eating fish. Advisories are recommendations to limit your consumption of, or avoid eating entirely, certain species of fish or shellfish from specific bodies of water due to chemical or biological contamination.
Fish is part of a healthy balanced diet, but eating wild fish and shellfish caught in park waters is not risk free. Parks are “islands”, but the much larger “ocean” that surrounds them affects the natural resources inside a park. Other aquatic toxins are the result of natural biological processes. Also, chemical contaminants that originate outside of park boundaries can come into parks.
Mercury is an example of a toxin originating outside a park that can find its way into a park. Mercury exists naturally in some rocks, including coal. When power plants burn coal, mercury can travel in the air long distances before falling to the ground, usually in low concentrations. Once on the ground, microorganisms can change this elementalmercury to methyl mercury. This type of mercury can build up in animal tissues, and it can increase in concentration to harmful levels. This high concentration can occur in large predatory fish - those often pursued and eaten by anglers. Studies have shown that fish in some National Park System waters have mercury levels that may be a concern to people who regularly eat a lot of fish.
Shenandoah National Park Fish Consumption Advisories
Many people are aware of the environmental harm that can occur when invasive exotic plants or animals are introduced into new areas. Invasive organisms can cause widespread damage by outcompeting native species or altering ecosystem processes. Most visitors to the park understand that exotic insects and plants have had negative impacts on forests in Shenandoah. Fewer people recognize the potential impact of aquatic invasives.
In aquatic ecosystems, evidence suggests that many invasive organisms have expanded their ranges as people have transported contaminated equipment (e.g. boats, fishing waders and boots, etc.) between water bodies. What would happen to our streams if an invasive algae like Didymosphenia geminate (commonly referred to as Didymo) took over major portions of the stream bed and displaced native algaes, benthic invertebrates and fish that depend on that habitat? What about the introduction of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, an exotic fish virus, that has been blamed for massive fish kills in the Great Lakes?
Many exotic aquatic organisms can be found within close proximity to Shenandoah National Park and the park is certainly interested in preventing their introduction into its relatively pristine waters. Within 100 miles of Shenandoah, didymo, an algae that likes cold waters and produces nuisance blooms, has invaded eight trout streams. Asian clams are present in two streams within the park and are found outside the boundary in most watersheds. New Zealand mud snails and Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia are a short seven hour drive away and are on our watch list as well.
Once these organisms arrive, management options are limited. Typically, there is no way to remove them from the aquatic system once they are established. For these reasons, preventative measures that limit the potential for transport provide the best means of defense.
How You Can Help – Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers
The most likely vector for invasive organisms entering Shenandoah National Park is by catching a ride from another water body on visitor gear, clothing, or even pets. Felt-soled waders or wading boots are often blamed for transferring these and other invaders, and some states have responded by restricting the use of felt-soled waders.
If you use your gear in streams or lakes outside of Shenandoah, please clean or dry it well before entering a park stream. Better yet, clean and dry your equipment between every outing wherever you are!
Before coming to the park, clean all gear and equipment by:
REMOVING debris and strands of alga from your gear
CLEANING all gear in 2.5-5.0% solution of household bleach and hot water for 10 minutes. Hard to remove debris should be scrubbed with a biodegradable detergent.
DRYING all gear to touch, and then continue drying time for at least 48 more hours.Please use only clean, thoroughly dried gear and equipment
Fishing Throughout the National Park Service
We invite you to visit the Fish and Fishing website for more information about fish and fishing in the National Park Service. You will learn about conservation, different fish species, aquatic invasive species, and parks that offer fishing.