The view before you is the westernmost section of the tidal portion of the James River. The James stretches from headwaters in the Appalachian Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, and is one of the United Sttaes' six longest rivers whose watershed lies entirely in one state.
In the middle of the city, the James reaches the Fall Line, where the state's geography transitions from the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain. Below this point, the river widens and begins to flow more slowly and deeply, and is affected by the tides. The water level fluctuates a few feet every six hours, rising about 0.5 feet at low tide to 2.5 feet at high tide. Although tides do affect the river here, it is not saline (salty).
The map at the right shows the James River as it flows through Virginia from the mountains in the west to the Chesapeake Bay in the east. The areas highlighted in light blue are the main James River watershed. Every rain drop that falls within the approximately 10,000 square miles of the watershed eventually flows into the James, and now passes Chapel lsland. East of Richmond, the James is joined by the Appomattox and then the Chickahominy rivers (whose watersheds are shown in light and dark green), bringing all the rain and runoff from their watersheds.
Human activities in these watersheds affect the River and the Chesapeake Bay. Rain washes chemicals and debris into the rivers, which eventually find their way to the Bay. Litter on the ground, chemicals on roadways, parking lots, and la and nutrients and bacteria from agricultural facilities all have negative effects on water quality.
The close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay, as well as deep waters with few obstructions, allow several species to migrate up to the Fall Line, including Atlantic Sturgeon, Shad and Blue Crab. American and Hickory Shad come up the river to spawn in the spring. For a couple of months each spring, large concentrations of shad are present in the tidal James, bringing many sport fishermen to the river.
The Striped Bass, or Rockfish, is another fish which migrates up the James, from the Bay to Richmond. Though present in small numbers all year, they are most plentiful in the spring.
The tidal reaches of the James River support the last viable population of the iconic Atlantic Sturgeon in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Listed recently as a federally endangered species, the Atlantic Sturgeon is the largest, oldest, and arguably the most interesting inhabitant of Virginia's coastal rivers, which historically supported a major fishery for meat and caviar. Construction of dams, sediment pollution, and overfishing almost eradicated this migratory species from Virginia waters, but ambitious efforts are underway to restore critical habitat and support the species' recovery.
Many common James River fishes, including Largemouth Bass and Channel Catfish, are not native to coastal Virginia, but were introduced here to provide enhanced fishing for recreational anglers. Two of these species, the Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish, were stocked in the James River several decades ago and have since expanded into many coastal and estuarine habitats. As adults, both species are top predators and may be responsible for unintended impacts on native fish and fisheries throughout much of Chesapeake Bay.
Other fish found in this section of the river are the Common Carp and the Bluegill Sunfish, both non-native, invasive species.
It may still surprise some people to know that Blue Crabs are caught on Chapel lsland. The crabs don't travel to spawn, but rather travel up river in the summer when water levels are low in search of food or higher oxygen levels. In the right conditions, crabs can be found in the James up to the Mayo Bridge.
Keep It Clean!
Help protect our river by picking up after yourself and your pets during your visit to Chapel Island. Even a small amount of litter, fishing line, or pet waste can be devastating to wildlife living on the island and in the river.