Though the panhandle of North Texas may not be the first place you think of for boating, it is full of opportunities if you know where to look. Not only that, but the area holds some of the records for the state’s biggest fish. There is a reservoir leading to almost every large city, many of which offer some recreational boating opportunities.
The northernmost section of Texas is known for large sandstone canyons and dry old west prairie. However, it can still be an excellent location for boating of all different kinds. The panhandle region, as it is called, has over 75 community fishing lakes, as well as a number of wide rivers that flow through storied canyons. When you are boating in this region, you can almost imagine the historic cowboys who drove cattle through the area and the Native American tribes who proudly roamed these plains chasing bison herds. If you prefer rapids, look to the Guadalupe Mountains and its streams. If you are looking for a classic wild-west experience, North Texas is an excellent place to begin.
Types of Boats in North Texas
There are close to 100 small community lakes in this region, but none of them are very large (at least on a Texas-sized scale). Boats here tend to be on the smaller size scale as well. Powerboats are typically trailer-bound and delivered by boat launch to local waterways. These smaller boats can be used to cruise, to fish or even to ski. Personal watercrafts like jet skis, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards, or SUPs are all found in this area.
Preparing to Boat in North Texas
The best way to describe this region is hot and dry, which is what you will be unless you dress appropriately and bring plenty of water. Consider a sun hat and sunscreen to protect you from the strong rays. Weather changes quickly here, so always get a good idea of the forecast before you go. Thunderstorms and flash floods can both be an extreme danger to boaters if you are caught unprepared. Make certain you have the correct number, type and weight class of life jacket when boating. Finally, it’s always a good idea to carry a first-aid kit. You may want it to contain a snakebite kit, as rattlesnakes are common.
The dry region of North Texas can get pretty cold at night, especially in the mountains. This is good to know if you are camping. Be certain that you bring layers, as the temperatures can go from freezing at night to over 100 during the day during certain times of year.
Fishing in North Texas
Texas is known as an excellent state for lake fishing, and the panhandle region is no exception. They maintain an extensive stocking program to try and encourage lots of on-lake recreation, and as a result, there are a number of world-class bass and other fishing tournaments located throughout the state. Fishing here is most commonly done with small aluminum or fiberglass boats with outboards, or even by kayak or canoe. The mountains in this region are excellent for fly-fishing, though most tend to wade and fish. However, it is possible to combine river kayaking, fly fishing and camping on an extensive trip through the Guadalupes.
Fish species here include stocked bass, including white, striped and their hybrids. Sunfish, bluegills and crappies make excellent beginner fish, and can be caught with the iconic can of worms, a line and a bobber. Larger fish like carp, walleye and catfish can be found in some of the backwaters and the larger rivers, and there are a few massive species of gar, like alligator gar, found in the region. There is brown trout in the mountain streams in the area, which is most often caught with fly fishing, as they are often spooked by anything outside of natural insect prey.
If you are inexperienced with fishing, or want to try it without committing to a large purchase of gear, consider looking for a guide or charter service. It offers you expert tips and techniques, a lowdown on the best local areas to fish, and a chance to try different gear, as well as the sport itself, without making a purchase that you may or may not use again. It is the perfect way to try before you buy.
Boating near Lubbock
Lubbock is one of the larger cities in the region, with a population of around a quarter million. This “Hub City”, as it is known, is the region’s economic, health care and education hub for the region. Though Lubbock has a reputation for being hot and dry, it still offers a number of different boating opportunities, especially with a number of recreational lakes.
Boating, camping, fishing and fun can all be had in Lubbock-area lakes. This includes three in particular:
- Buffalo Springs Lake is a 240-acre lake and recreational area that offers many different opportunities for Lubbock residents. Only five miles from Lubbock, the lake has stocked fish, three boat ramps, a tourism amphitheater, and two swimming beaches. The shoreline offers many miles of hiking trails and several campgrounds. Picnic areas and park shelters can also be found and rented, as well as a number of rental cabins. The lake is popular with canoers, kayakers, jet skis, waterskiiers, kneeboarders and tubers.
- Lake Alan Henry, about an hour south of Lubbock, is almost 3,000 acres in size and has over 95 miles of coastline. This is a more wilderness-based lake, and there is primitive camping, hiking, hunting, fishing and watersports available in the area.
- White River Lake is a manmade recreational area that was created in the 1960s. This shallow 2200 acre lake only gets to about 20 feet in depth, and has 25 miles of coastline. There are some unique tourist features here like an indoor fishing barge, picnic areas with built-in barbecue grills, camping areas, swimming areas with showers, and a marina. Fishing, swimming, skiing and cruising are all popular activities here.
Boating near Amarillo
This largest panhandle city is nicknamed the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” for the city’s name, which is Spanish for yellow. The name most likely comes from the yellow flowers that grew along the city’s main lake and riverbank. The large, flat floodplains made for good grazing for cattle ranchers and easy building for a transcontinental railway. Today, it is the largest city in North Texas, with a little more than a quarter million residents. Located in the northern panhandle region, it is closer in distance to Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico than it is the capital city of Austin.
The regional boating lakes are great for swimming, fishing, cruising and waterskiing. Some of the most popular include:
- Lake Merideth: This dammed river system serves as the major water source for the city of Amarillo. Fishing, skiing, picnicking and free camping are all available. The state’s record for largest smallmouth bass and the largest walleye are both found here.
- Greenbelt Reservoir: This 2000 acre lake offers 5 boat ramps, campsites with RV hookups, and picnic areas. Fishing, pleasure boating and skiing are all common here. Leave Fido at home, however, as it is a dog-free lake.
- Lake McLellan: This lake sits next to a large series of ATV trails, and offers great camping and hiking along the shore. Personal watercrafts are not allowed during holidays and weekends, but other boats are welcome for fishing, swimming and cruising. If you prefer a slower pace, there are excellent nature trails with wildlife viewing.
- MacKenzie Reservoir: If you prefer a slower pace to your boating, then this is an excellent location to visit. There are no jet-ski type personal watercrafts, waterskiiers or boats under tow allowed on the lake. The reservoir has between 300 and 900 acres based on water level, and over 6 miles of shoreline. There are RV hookups, large campgrounds, picnic shelters and more. Fishing is allowed, provided you do not go much faster than a slow troll.
The depth and breadth of boating opportunities in North Texas can be surprising to discover. Whether you love to kayak or canoe, fish, waterski or drive a personal watercraft, there are a large number of boats to be had and places to go. On a hot North Texas day, this is one of the most refreshing things to try. The only unsurprising thing about your boat trip in this region is that you will probably want to go back as often as possible.