How to Become a Fishing Guide in Texas
May 17, 2019 | 3 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Lone Star State harbors fantastic fishing opportunities, but you gotta make sure you’re properly licensed to run fishing charters. So, today you’ll find out how to become a fishing guide in Texas.

How to become a fishing guide in Texas: A guide holding Bull Redfish

From Striper fishing on Lake Texoma to offshore Tuna fishing in the Gulf, Texas is full of hot fishing fun. Knowing how to legally operate your charter fishing business is essential to enjoy it to the fullest.

Like in most states, freshwater and saltwater guiding have different regulations and licenses. You generally need more licenses for saltwater than for freshwater.

Saltwater

To legally run a saltwater fishing operation in Texas, you need the following three documents:

  • Captain’s License (USCG)
  • All-Water Fishing Guide License
  • Boat Registration

Captain’s License

Like elsewhere, all saltwater guides in Texas need to be Coast Guard licensed captains and be in possession of a Captain’s license (Merchant Mariner Credential).

All-Water Fishing Guide License

In Texas, you need something called an All-Water Fishing Guide License to legally operate saltwater fishing charters. For residents, this license costs $210. Here you can find an overview of different fishing licenses and fees.

Note that your boat has to be registered through the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department before you can apply for a fishing license. You’ll see how to do that below.

Gulf of Mexico Fishing License for Federal Waters

For fishing in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico (9+ miles out), you require a Coastal Pelagics permit and/or a Reef Fish permit. This depends on which species you’re targeting. Unfortunately, you can only buy it off someone who already has it. The Gulf Council, which is responsible for managing the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, hasn’t issued new permits since 2003.

Boat Registration

Unlike in Florida or California, in Texas the DMV (Department for Motor Vehicles) is not in charge of boat registration. Instead, the TPWD (Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) is responsible for that.

Only the owner can register a vessel. You can register either by mailing this form with supplementary documents to the TPWD, or in person at a local tax collector’s office. You have to submit the boat’s bill of sale as well as the manufacturer’s statement of origin alongside your boat registration.

Depending on the length of your boat, you will pay between $32 to $150 to register your boat in Texas.

Boat Insurance

For most Texas fishing charter businesses, boat insurance is not required. The exception is Party Boat operations, which need to have limited liability insurance covering at least $300,000. A party boat is quite broadly defined as any boat over 30 feet in length that takes more than six passengers.

Of course, we recommend that every charter operator purchases boat insurance. Insurance can be the difference between losing your boat or business and being protected, in many cases.

Freshwater

As a freshwater guide, you need a special license, which costs $132.

Apart from that, to fish in ‘navigable waters’ you also need a USCG captain’s license. Navigable waters are defined as waterways with (commercial) traffic, like the Sabine River and its lakes.

Finally, your customers have to buy their personal fishing licenses. They can easily do this via the TPWD shop.

Not from Texas? For which state or country would you like to see a licensing guide next? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments (33)
  • Gene Masters

    Jan 22, 2018

    That’s a beauty redfish! I would like to see a fishing guide in Costa Rica, because that is where I plan on vacationing around Thanksgiving time next year. I’ll be on the lookout.

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      George

      Jan 22, 2018

      Hi Gene, it is a nice fish indeed.
      We’d be happy to help find you a fishing trip in Costa Rica. You can check out our charter page for Costa Rica, you can choose from over a hundred captains!

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  • ben little

    Jan 22, 2018

    wanted to get properly licensed to run fishing charters in the corpus Christ area
    would like to take the classed in San Antonio, texas. Is there classes in San Antonio

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      George

      Jan 22, 2018

      Hi Ben, fishing in Corpus is great, good choice. The only school that seems to be available in San Antonio is the Atlantic Maritime Academy, you can try giving them a call.

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  • John Adams

    Mar 18, 2018

    Do you know if the lower Trinity River below Lake Livingston is considered navigable? to my knowledge there is no commercial traffic on the river however it can be ran from the dam to the bay.

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      George

      Mar 19, 2018

      Hi John, thank you for reading our blog!
      Great question; the Trinity River is a somewhat unclear case. While parts of the lower Trinity River are technically navigable, there is no indication that it is considered navigable by the authorities. It seems you do not need a USCG license to fish the Trinity River. However, to be 100% sure, I would recommend you contact the USCG. You can find their phone number, email address, and live chat option here: http://www.dco.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Assistant-Commandant-for-Prevention-Policy-CG-5P/National-Maritime-Center-NMC/Contact/

      Hope that helps!
      George

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  • Mike Miller

    Apr 27, 2018

    Morning Geroge…My question is ..I’ve been a fisherman since I was a little boy so that means I’ve been fishing for close to 50 years …can I use this time as being part of a crew of captain in charge of my own boat as credit towards let’s say time on the water to satisfy the 360 day crew rules .Thank you for your time ..as always keep that line tight !!

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      George

      Apr 30, 2018

      Hi Mike,

      Good question, thanks. You should be able to count that towards your 360 days, as long as you have licensed captains that you were crewing for and who can provide you with signatures to prove it. Also, 90 of your 360 days need to have happened in the past 3 years, which you can read here.

      Hope that answers your questions, thanks for reading!
      George

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  • David Moser

    Jul 15, 2018

    My brother would like to start a Striper Guide service on lake Texoma (Oklahoma side). Do you know the legal requirements?

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      George

      Jul 16, 2018

      Hi David,

      Thanks for reading!

      There has been a lot of debate over the years whether or not fishing guides on Lake Texoma need to be Coast Guard licensed. Oklahoma currently does not require guides to have a Coast Guard license. Because of that, your brother will need an Oklahoma Fishing Guide License (application form here) and a valid Oklahoma fishing license. This will only allow him to fish on the Oklahoman side of the lake.

      Apart from these two licenses, he will have to register his boat at the Oklahoma Department for Motor Vehicles (DMV). You can find more information here.

      Good luck!

      George

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      David moser

      Jul 30, 2018

      Thank for your help.

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      David Moser

      Jul 30, 2018

      Will he need USCG license to fish Texas side of Texoma or just Texas guide license.

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      George

      Jul 31, 2018

      Hey David,

      He would need just a Texas guide license.

      George

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  • Jeff

    Jul 20, 2018

    So to simply be a guide on north Texas lakes all you need is the special $132 license and a registered and insured boat?

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      George

      Jul 20, 2018

      Hi Jeff,

      Yes, as long as the lake is not on a river that is considered navigable. Unfortunately it is not always clearly stated which waters are considered navigable, but to my knowledge no lakes in northern Texas are.

      Just to be clear, boat insurance is not required, but it is strongly recommended.

      Hope that answers your question!

      George

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  • Tim

    Sep 18, 2018

    What if I want to charge someone for my time on their boat? As a fishing guide or instructor, but not charging for a trip on my boat, using theirs. I don’t own a boat, but I know where and how to fish the Texas coast. It’s ok to charge someone for that service is they want to pay me, correct?

    Thanks,

    Tim

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      George

      Sep 19, 2018

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the question.

      Unfortunately, you will still need an “all-water fishing guide license” which will cost you $210 a year (if you’re a Texas resident). You just won’t need a captain’s license in that case.

      Hope that helps, enjoy guiding!

      George

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      Capt.rod

      Apr 5, 2019

      Wrong !!! uscg lisence is required by the state of Texas for Coastal saltwater fishing besides the all water guides licence

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      Sean

      Apr 8, 2019

      Hey Capt. Rod,

      Thank you for your message, you’re completely right!

      According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, a USCG Operator’s License is required for any person who for compensation, accompanies, assists, or transports any person engaged in fishing in the public waters of the state.

      Once again, thank you for bringing this to our attention.

      Tight lines!

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  • Captain Matt King

    Oct 2, 2018

    Hi everyone . I’m considering a working vacation this winter somewhere warm. I m owner and operator of established seasonal charter boat service in New England 16 years in the biz. Diid this in Hawaii running flats Boat for bonefish during my off season and wanna try
    New area this time if possible. Looking to work part or fulltime dec-April . Prefer fly and or light tackle. Open tto Something short term and even fill in work too.if it’s somewhat regular. Any suggestions or leads apreciated

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      George

      Oct 4, 2018

      Hi Matt,

      I hope you find something! Did you check out Hull Truth? You might find something on there!

      George

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  • Brent Walters

    Oct 23, 2018

    Great information George, thank you for sharing. I am little confused regarding the guiding on Texoma. Most articles date back to 2009 – 2011, which say that a guide would need a USCG license to operate on Texoma but, you are saying that you only need a Freshwater Guide License from each state essentially. Has there been new guidance since 2011?

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      George

      Nov 2, 2018

      Hi Brent,

      Glad you find the information useful!

      You’re right, the information surrounding fishing on Texoma (and other lakes) is unclear. It’s my understanding that you don’t need a USCG license, but as the rules change often, it’s always wisest to contact the local authorities in order to be sure.

      Thanks,
      George

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  • Cody Payne

    Dec 26, 2018

    I have a boat on Lake Lewisville, TX and I’m trying to make sure before I go all in on a guiding service that I cross all of my T’s and dot all of my i’s for both Lake Lewisville and Tawakoni. Will a captain’s license be required for these 2 bodies of water? What steps do I need to take to get whatever licenses I need to get before I begin an outfitter? Thanks in Advance!

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      George

      Jan 3, 2019

      Hi Cody,

      Thanks for reading.

      You don’t need a captain’s license to fish on Lewisville and Tawakoni, but you do need a charter license and boat registration. Of course, insurance is always recommended.

      Hope that helps!
      George

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  • Matt

    Dec 29, 2018

    I see the info for regulations about guiding from a boat. What about if you guide from shore only? Do you still need the uscg captains license if you are only on shore?

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      George

      Jan 3, 2019

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for reading.

      No, for shore fishing you don’t need a captain’s license.

      Happy New Year,
      George

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  • Chris

    Apr 19, 2019

    Are fishing guides exempt from collecting sales tax?

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      Sean

      Apr 19, 2019

      Hello Chris,

      Thanks for reading.

      No, I’m afraid not. Opening up a fishing charter business would mean that you would have to form a legal business entity and register for taxes.

      I hope that helps.

      Have a good one!

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  • Carolyn

    May 15, 2019

    This is such a great blog!!! You are bringing up issues I hadn’t even thought about. Any advice for setting up a charter in New Mexico? I know…..desert…..fishing….what water?!? Lol

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      Sean

      May 17, 2019

      Hello Carolyn,

      Thanks for reaching out, I’m glad you like the blog!

      As you probably noticed, the NM Department of Game and Fish doesn’t have information about how to become a fishing guide on their website. This is because the DGF doesn’t require you to have one.

      What you will need is a federal permit from an appropriate land management agency. This depends on whether you want to fish in a state park, a forest or somewhere else.

      For example, you might need to contact the BLM.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Have a great day!

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  • Steve

    Jul 16, 2019

    Hi! Lots of great information here, so i have a question. What if i want to do small (6 or less passengers) guided tours of inland lakes in texas. Like Belton lake or lake travis. Would the fishing guid license be sufficient?

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      Albert

      Jul 17, 2019

      Hi Steve,

      As well as a guide license, you need a USCG captain’s license to take groups on any navigable body of water. That includes all reservoirs built in navigable rivers, such as the Brazos, Colorado, Sabine, Rio Grande etc.

      In general, you can assume that all man-made reservoirs are considered navigable, so you’ll need a captain’s license to run trips on them.

      I hope that makes things a little clearer.

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