One of the quieter places to take in the tidal James River is at Great Shiplock Park at Dock and Pear streets in Shockoe Bottom. It has a historic, working canal lock, trails, fishing spots and many great views of the river and downtown. It is also the eastern trailhead for the Virginia Capital Trail.
The site is farthest east of the historic James River & Kanawha canal locks. Built in the 1850s, with the stone lock completed in 1854, the locks allowed ships to bypass the falls of the James and travel into Virginia’s hills by connecting the James with the Richmond Dock. Ships were raised from sea level to the height of the dock in each section of the locks, which accomodated ships as large as 180 feet long by 35 feet wide.
The parkland includes the former Trigg Shipyard, which was built in 1898 and went out of business in 1903. Several ships for the U.S. Navy were constructed there, including the USS Schubrick, a torpedo boat used in the Spanish-American War. The site of the former Trigg shipyard is on the eastern tip of Chapel Island on the south bank of the canal.
What can you do?
Fishing: In the tidal area below the falls, many fish species migrate through in the spring to spawn. The most common are American and hickory shad, herring, and rockfish. You could also see smallmouth bass and several types of catfish.
- Shad: The most popular fish is shad, and the most common of that species is hickory shad “they are so common now, which is an indication of how clean the water is,” said Ralph White, manager of the James River Park System.
- White perch (also referred to as “stiff-backs” because of the sharp spines on their dorsal fins): They live in the bay and come up the James River to spawn only at the Mayo Bridge and the Falls of the James. In the spring runs “it is sometimes so dense with fish that you can drop a baited hook in,” said White, “that before your hook hits the bottom, you’ve got a fish on your line.”
- Rockfish or striped bass: “This fish has come back bigtime,” White said. They were “once endangered, are almost now prolific.” Almost all of the boats and fisherman around the Mayo Bridge, Great Shiplock, Anncarrow’s Landing area are fishing for rockfish. “The management has been successful due to the hard work of the Marine Resources Commission and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.”
- Smallmouth bass: They become a target in the summertime. Richmond is “one of the nation’s great smallmouth bass fishing sites,” White said. The river is “managed for giant trophy-sized fish … you can’t even keep a smallmouth that is less than 22 inches long.”
- Catfish (flathead, blue and channel): “Channel [catfish] are quite good eating,” White said, “especially in the 1- to 2-pound range.” None of the really large fish should be eaten because large catfish “bio-accumulate” in their tissue when they travel downstream of the Richmond region and can absorb chemicals in the water.
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