The Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers provide excellent smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish angling above Fredericksburg and tidal influence. Additionally, herring, shad and striped bass run the river each spring and ascend past Fredericksburg now that Embrey Dam has been completely removed. Below the fall line, the Rappahannock has good populations of white perch, largemouth bass, striped bass, black crappie, yellow perch, channel catfish, and blue catfish. Several of these species (e.g., yellow perch and channel catfish) are now being found above the old dam site. The fish community above Fredericksburg is currently in a state of flux and will probably not stabilize for several more years as species of resident and migratory fish establish new territories.
The Rappahannock River flows from its origin at Chester Gap in Rappahannock County approximately 184 miles to the Chesapeake Bay. The first 62 miles, from the headwaters to Mayfield Bridge (Fredericksburg), are designated State Scenic River. The river has a watershed of approximately 2,715 mi2, and average annual discharge near Fredericksburg is typically about 1,639 CFS. During Colonial days, the Rappahannock River was a major shipping artery for transporting tobacco, salted fish, iron ore, and grains. The watershed supports a variety of land uses; largely agricultural in the upper watershed, with manufacturing, light industrial, and retail applications throughout. Soil erosion is a problem in the upper watershed. Runoff from the major tributaries (Rapidan and Hazel Rivers) leaves the Rappahannock muddy after even minor storm events. Access to the Rappahannock system (defined here as the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers) is fairly limited and primitive. Established access points on the Rappahannock (traveling downstream) are at Kelly's Ford (Route 672 off Route 651) in Culpeper County and Motts Landing (Route 618) in Spotsylvania County. About 25 miles separates these canoe/Jon boat slides, and an overnight camp stop is nearly mandatory for those that float fish this reach. Another access point is located on the Rapidan River at Elys Ford (Route 610) in Spotsylvania County about 14 miles upstream of Motts Landing. Access may also be gained via several non established points. These consist of VDOT right-of-ways along bridges (e.g., Route 522 on the Rapidan). Many anglers choose one of the canoe liveries that have agreements with landowners and provide floats of varying length from access points not available to the general public. For more information, contact Clore Brothers (540-786-7749), Rappahannock Outdoor Education Center (540-371-5085) or Rappahannock River Campground (800-784-7235) The river is tidal below Fredericksburg, and public boat launch sites are limited to five (two in or near Fredericksburg, Hicks Landing, Port Royal and Tappahannock).
The Rappahannock River's character changes abruptly in Fredericksburg at the fall line (the limit of tidal influence). Above the fall line, the river is usually clear, swift, and dominant substrates are bedrock, boulder and cobble providing perfect habitat for smallmouth bass and related species. However, below Route 1 the river is tidal, and the substrate is finer, dominated by sand; and the water is frequently murky. Species composition shifts with habitat, and largemouth bass, catfish and anadromous species are more common in and below Fredericksburg. Boaters and anglers can now navigate from upstream access points such as Motts Landing across the old Embrey Dam site and into the tidal waters adjacent to Fredericksburg.
Blue catfish were stocked below Fredericksburg in 1974, 1975, and 1977; channel catfish in 1975 and 1987. Tiger musky were stocked above the fall line in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985 but were discontinued due to poor survival. Other species such as smallmouth bass were stocked well over 100 years ago but now are naturally self sustaining populations.