General Fishing Regulations

Valid Sep. 1, 2023 through Aug. 31, 2024.

Good Fishing Depends on Clean Water

Harmful algae blooms can affect fishing spots, creating “dead zones” where no aquatic life can survive. The cause is usually pollution from fertilizers, septic systems, animal waste, and sewage treatment plants. Learn more at Nutrient Pollution. Supporting water quality protection supports great fishing!

Kills and Spills Team

To report saltwater or freshwater fish kills, please contact the Kills and Spills Team (KAST) at (512) 389-4848.

Fishing License Requirements

Any person who takes or attempts to take fish, mussels, clams, crayfish or other aquatic life in the public waters of Texas must have a current Texas fishing license with the appropriate endorsement. A saltwater endorsement is required to fish in coastal waters; a freshwater endorsement is required for inland waters. For details and exceptions, see license fees and packages.

Note: A hunting license is required to hunt non-protected turtles and frogs.

Game Fish

Includes hybrids and subspecies of listed fish. Game fish may be taken only by pole and line, except as otherwise provided in this guide.

Unlawful Activities

It is unlawful to:

  • take, kill, or disturb sea turtles. Species found in the Gulf of Mexico include Green, Loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, Leatherback and Hawksbill. If you accidentally catch a sea turtle, immediately call (866) 887-8535 for information on how to help without injuring yourself or causing further injury to the animal.
  • take, kill, or disturb any endangered or threatened fish species (paddlefish, shovel-nosed sturgeon, sawfish and others).
  • take or kill diamondback terrapin or marine mammals such as porpoises, dolphins or whales. Immediately call (800) 962-6625 to report a stranded marine mammal.
  • place any game fish into public waters, other than the body of water where the fish was caught, without a valid permit issued by TPWD. This includes fish caught by pole and line. To apply for a permit to place fish into public waters (no fee required), download an application form or call (800) 792-1112 (menu 4) or (512) 389-4742.
  • use any vessel to harry, herd or drive fish including, but not limited to, operating any vessel in a repeated circular course, for the purpose of or resulting in the concentration of fish for the purpose of taking or attempting to take fish.
  • uproot or dig out any rooted seagrass plant from a bay bottom or other saltwater bottom in this state by means of a propeller. See additional information regarding seagrass regulations.
  • transport live, nongame fishes taken from:
    • the Red River and all tributary waters in Grayson, Fannin, Lamar, Red River, and Bowie counties below Lake Texoma downstream to the Arkansas border,
    • Big Cypress Bayou downstream of Ferrell’s Bridge Dam on Lake O’ the Pines (including the Texas waters of Caddo Lake), or
    • the Sulphur River downstream of the Lake Wright Patman dam.
    • (Nongame fishes collected from these waters may be used as live bait on the water bodies where they were collected.)
  • intentionally or unintentionally possess or transport aquatic invasive species without a permit; see “Possession and Transport of Exotic Aquatic Species.
  • use any game fish or part of a game fish as bait.

Tagging Fish

Although it is legal to place an identification tag (use caution as tags can damage fish) on the exterior of a fish and release it back into public waters, it is unlawful to release a fish with a device or substance implanted or attached to produce an audible, visual, or electronic signal used to monitor, track, follow, or in any manner aid in locating it.

Waste of Fish

It is unlawful to leave edible fish or bait fish taken from the public waters of the state to die without the intent to retain the fish for consumption or bait.

Bait Regulations

There are several regulations that apply to bait:

  • It is unlawful to use any game fish or part of a game fish as bait.
  • Live fish, including personally caught live bait, cannot be transported from the water body where the fish were caught in or aboard a vessel in water from the water body where the fish were caught.
  • Transport and use of commercially purchased live bait in water while fishing from a vessel is allowed, provided persons in possession of the bait have a receipt that identifies the source of the bait. Any live bait purchased from a location on or adjacent to public water body that is transported in water from that water body can only be used as bait on that same water body.
  • If using dead or live shrimp, whole or in pieces, only the use of shrimp native to the Gulf of Mexico may be used in Texas waters. If using frozen shrimp from a grocery store, be sure to check the package - if it is imported from another country, it may not be used.
  • Some counties have specific bait fish regulations, know where you are fishing and the local regulations.

Special Areas and Restrictions

  • It is a violation to move, remove, deface, alter, or destroy any sign, depth marker, or other informational signage placed by the department within, or to delineate boundaries of the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area.
  • It is a violation to anchor or moor a vessel, barge, or structure for a period exceeding two consecutive days within the area in Cedar Bayou between a department sign erected where Mesquite Bay flows into Cedar Bayou and the department sign erected near the point where the pass empties in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It is a violation to leave unattended for any period of time or anchor a barge, boat, or fishing platform in the Trinity River below Livingston Dam in an area 1,000 feet from the dam to a point 1,500 feet downstream from the dam:
    • for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period without moving 100 feet or more during that time, or
    • for five or more consecutive days, whether or not it has been moved;
  • Portions of the Rio Grande adjacent to the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area are designated as a "Wild and Scenic River." Special federal rules apply to fishing, boating and other uses in these areas. Check the Big Bend National Park website for more information concerning these rules and boundaries.

Possession of Fish Taken from Public Water

Fish caught and immediately released are not considered to be in possession. Any fish that are retained by using any type of holding device such as stringer, cooler, livewell, or bucket are considered in an angler’s possession and must adhere to established length and bag limits. While fishing, it is illegal to be in possession of more fish than the daily bag limit or fish that are within a protected length limit.

In order to verify length and species, a fish caught may not have the head or tail removed and may not be filleted until an angler finally lands the catch on the mainland, a peninsula, or barrier island not including jetties or piers and does not transport the catch by boat. For broadbill swordfish and king mackerel, the head or tail may be removed but the remainder of the carcass must remain intact and may not be filleted. For sharks, only the head may be removed. The remainder of the carcass (including the tail) must remain intact and may not be filleted.

Any fish taken from public water and landed by boat or person in Texas must adhere to the length limits and daily bag and possession limits established for those fish in Texas regardless of the state or country in which they were caught.

The bag limit for a guided fishing party is equal to the total number of persons in the boat licensed to fish or otherwise exempt from holding a license minus each fishing guide and fishing guide deckhand multiplied by the bag limit for each species harvested.

Transfer and Importation of Wildlife and Aquatic Resources

A person may give or receive any legally taken wildlife or aquatic resource, or part of the resource, that is required to be tagged or that is protected by a daily bag / possession limit if the resource is accompanied by a Wildlife Resource Document (WRD). A person may use the downloadable form or a handwritten document that includes the same required information. A properly executed WRD must accompany the resource until it reaches the possessor’s permanent residence or a cold storage/processing facility, except no WRD is required if a person receiving the wildlife resource does not exceed the possession limit (or bag limit if in the field) and is lawfully licensed or possesses the applicable license.

It is unlawful to import a wildlife or aquatic resource into this state or possess a resource taken outside this state unless:

  • the person possesses a valid hunting, fishing, or other applicable license, endorsement, tag, permit, or document for the state or country in which the resource was legally taken; and
  • a person produces, upon request of a game warden, a valid driver’s license or personal identification certificate.

A person may possess an animal legally obtained outside of Texas that is listed as threatened or endangered in Texas if they have proof that the animal was lawfully obtained. Proof consists of bill-of-sale, license tag, permit or notarized affidavit.

Imports from Mexico

The requirements listed above are waived if a United States Customs Officer’s Statement is obtained from the United States Customs Office at the port of entry showing that the wildlife resource was brought in from Mexico. The Customs Officer’s statement must accompany the wildlife resource to its final destination.