Texas offers the best of both worlds because it not only has 7,000 lakes across the state, but you can go saltwater bowfishing as well. Keep in mind, you can’t bowfish on every lake, but you have many options here, and the great Lone Star State has a variety of fish species that you can target. One of the more addictive bowfishing targets here is the massive alligator gar that can reach up to 240 pounds in some cases.
If you’d like to go bowfishing in Texas but you don’t have a great bow for it, I put together this excellent list of the best bowfishing bows. Even if you do have a good bowfishing bow, it can be fun to look around to see what’s available.
Bowfishing Rules in Texas: What to Know
The bowfishing rules in Texas dictate that you can bowfish on the coastal waters of the state. You can use a crossbow, compound bow, recurve or a longbow. To bowfish here, you need a saltwater, freshwater or an all-water license.
If under the age of 17, you don’t need to buy a license. Residents born before January 1, 1931, also don’t require a license. Let’s say that you want to bowfish for turtles and frogs—you will need to buy a hunting license for it. Getting a Combination License will cover both hunting and fishing.
When bowfishing, you can only take the non-game fish species. This includes fish like:
While many of the species don’t have a limit, the alligator gar, a fish that has made Texas famous, has a set limit of only one fish per day. At Lady Bird Lake, located in downtown Austin, you can only shoot one trophy-sized carp per day, which means a carp that measures over 33 inches. You don’t have a limit on the carp under that size.
Bowfishing on saltwater, a number of the non-game fish species will have strict limits, and you can see the limits on each species here. You can bowfish year-round in Texas because it isn’t a seasonal sport.
How to Choose a Texas Bowfishing Guide
Next, we will cover the bowfishing guides in Texas. Before you hire a guide, I have a few tips that can help. Check with your friends to see if they have ever used a bowfishing guide. Not everyone uses a guide, but they can be helpful to give you a taste of the sport to decide if you want to take the plunge into buying the bowfishing boat later.
Let’s say that you have exhausted that option by asking everyone and have not found a guide. You can also speak with places that sell bowfishing supplies or even try a bait shop to see if they know of anyone.
You can also book through an agent that does a screening process to vet for the best bowfishing guide. Many times, a booking agent will have experience in companies and can give you valuable advice.
Finally, choose a guide that will bowfish on the lakes that you want and will target the fish that you want. Texas is the second-biggest state in the nation, and it ranks 2.8 times larger than the UK. With that in mind, you want to hire a bowfishing guide that will cover the region of Texas that you want to bowfish.
Bowfishing in East Texas will be different from bowfishing in West Texas. You also want to be aware of the rules because they can change depending on the region or even the lake or river.
Bowfishing in Houston
First, be aware of how you can’t bowfish on Lake Houston. Like many of the states across the nation, you have specific waterways where you can go bowfishing. To legally bowfish, you will need to leave city limits. For example, going to Montgomery County to the northeast.
Also, most of the San Jacinto River around Houston is considered a part of the city making it illegal to bowfish there. If you’re in Harris County, they consider it illegal. Anything over into Montgomery County, however, and you’re allowed to let the arrows fly.
You can also bowfish at Lake Conroe, which is the San Jacinto River Basin. The only issue with that comes from how they released grass carp into the lake a few years back, and they have begun to overrun the lake and make it muddy. You can’t see the fish well enough to shoot.
If you went to the Galveston and Freeport area, you can shoot stingrays and sheepshead. Provided the conditions are good, you can also shoot flounder.
You might try the Trinity River outside of Houston. Check out this video of these three guys shooting a 6-foot monster gator gar. It’s mesmerizing to watch:
Bowfishing in North Texas: Best Places to Bowfish
Ranking among some of the best lakes in North Texas for bowfishing, you have locations like:
- Possum Kingdom Lake
- Lake Grapevine
- Lake Grandbury
- Lake Ray Hubbard
- Ray Roberts Lake
- Lake Worth
Possum Kingdom Lake, situated to the west of Fort Worth, regularly holds bowfishing tournaments. One of the best tactics during the day is to follow the lake’s edges. You can shoot carp from the shores of this location. Costello Island makes for another great location to hit. PK Lodge also has a lot of rough fish in the area.
If you did decide to hit PK Lodge, bring a lot of arrow tips because of how this location has a lot of rocks—not ideal for bowfishermen who launch projectiles that they need to keep sharpened.
Also, check out the Brazo River, a hot spot in North Central Texas, where you can hit some alligator gar.
Bowfishing in South Texas: Best Places to Bowfish
Some of the South Texas favorite bowfishing spots include:
- Lake Amistad
- Falcon Lake
- Medina Lake
In particular, if you want trophy alligator gar in South Texas, you visit one of those three lakes. Brauning and Calaveras make for some great bowfishing lakes near San Antonio, Texas. This is about as far south in Texas as what you can go. Tilapia is a common fish to bowfish at Calaveras and Brauning.
Bowfishing in East Texas: Best Places to Bowfish
Lake Murvaul is one of the places where you can bowfish in East Texas. This lake can be a tough mistress at times, but if you persist, you may find it worth it. You will see tons of rough fish near the shallows make it an ideal spot for bowfishing. Check the north side of Dotson Bridge in particular to see what you can come up with. The other great areas to bowfish in East Texas are in Houston, which is more like southeast location, and we already covered them.
Bowfishing in West Texas: Best Places to Bowfish
Bring up bowfishing at Lake Stamford in West Texas and people go nuts. This probably marks out one of the more favorite spots in West Texas. You will see lots of gar and going at night, you will see many hiding in the coves. Kirby Lake also has a lot of carp, which can make for some pretty fun shooting.
The lake record for a bighead carp here is 90 pounds. To put that into perspective, the largest bighead ever caught was 104 pounds in West Virginia.
Going over to Hubbard Creek, you see plenty of Spotted Gar. You will at least need a small boat for this location.
O.H. Ivie Lake is another great spot where you can shoot carp, spotted gar, drum and buffalo. Just don’t go to this location if you want alligator gar since they don’t have them here in big number.
Best Bowfishing in the Country
Texas has a reputation as having some of the best bowfishing in the country. Many people drive hours to come to Texas and shoot the majestic alligator gar. You don’t have to look too far if you want great bowfishing in the state. Texas is home to many of the big fish. It’s one of the most fun sports that you can participate in here.
In case you want to see more awesome footage of what the action looks like in Texas, check out this video:
Texas Bowfishing Association: What to Know
Want to participate in some great Texas bowfishing competitions? Looking for the latest state news on bowfishing? The Texas Bowfishing Association keeps everything on bowfishing up to date, and you can meet up with other bowfishermen. I didn’t find them quite as active as in other states, but the Texas Bowfishing Association fights for the rights of bowfishermen and holds tournaments worth checking out.
One example of this for big fish bowfishing in Texas comes from how they fought to prevent the overharvesting of the prized alligator gar in the state.
We love this fish, and we want to be able to continue bowfishing for them, which means protecting them. The concern is due to the fact that it takes a 7-foot trophy fish 40 years to reach that full length. Combine that with overharvesting of them, we would soon have far less of this big fish.
Many people also don’t believe that you can’t eat alligator gar and throw them away as a result. In fact, they taste delicious, and you’d be wasting the opportunity at a great meal. Check out this video on how to prepare the best fried alligator gar:
Lone Star State: Saltwater Bowfishing
We covered the freshwater bowfishing in Texas in depth, but we feel it important to mention the saltwater bowfishing as well. Bowfishing in the saltwater bays of Texas has become hot action, and you can also book a charter if you don’t know where to go or don’t have a boat.
You can bowfish for flounder, sheepshead, stingrays, mullet and gar in the saltwater environment. Stingrays are probably the most popular thing that people bowfish for. Sticking them with an arrow, however, is more difficult than even setting them on a hook.
Be aware of how saltwater bowfishing differs a little from freshwater in that many of the species may have bag limits on them. Check ahead of time for what you plan to target.
When it comes to following the rules and regulations in Texas, here’s the golden rule—if you don’t know, don’t shoot. That may prove frustrating in the beginning, but it will keep you from an expensive fine. Also, check the rules with local authorities before heading out to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information. Laws are known for changing.
Expert Tip: Clean your bowfishing equipment well after each saltwater bowfishing session. Saltwater is corrosive and will damage your gear if you don’t clean it well. Unlike freshwater, you need to take an extra step. You don’t need to worry about this with freshwater.
Bowfishing for flounder, gar and stingrays have become the most popular because they taste the best at the dinner table.
Other Great Bowfishing Resources on the States
If you enjoyed this guide and found it informative, perhaps you will like some of my other content. I have written about other states where you can go bowfishing and have included equally in-depth information. It can help you to plan a dream bowfishing trip to one of these other states. Have a look here:
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Missouri
- Bowfishing Ohio Guide: How to Do It Better
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Utah
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in California
- Bowfishing Guide: How to Bowfish in Louisiana
Texas marks out one of the best places to chase down big alligator gar. If you want to go on an adventure for them, you can find them abundantly across South Texas bodies of water. The bowfishing in this state remains hot all year round and some of the best in the country. An entire culture has popped up around the sport.
In case you’d like to see the bowfishing and bowhunting records for the biggest fish caught in the state, check out the state records here. The biggest alligator gar caught in the state was shot by Robbie Smith and Scott Gilmer and the fish was 230 pounds and almost twice the height of a full-grown male. Texas never disappoints when it comes to bowfishing.