There is a reason that Texans call their home state God’s Country. There is a beautiful, expansive and diverse landscape, warm people, excellent food and fantastic boating opportunities. The fact that Texas is so warm makes it possible to boat pretty much year-round, and in almost any kind of landscape and water-based activity you choose. Here is a look at some of the best boating that South Texas has to offer, and where to go to find the fun:
Boating Activities in South Texas
South Texas is well-known for its saltwater coast, and the Gulf of Mexico is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the region. However, there are some great freshwater lakes and rivers as well, which makes this a trifecta for excellent boating opportunities.
Saltwater Fishing Around South Texas
Deep-sea fishing is a very popular sport at many port towns like Galveston and Corpus Christi. This can be done by charter, which is an excellent way to fish if you are short on gear and/or know-how. Common favorites include barracuda, bonito, mahi mahi, grouper and marlin. Saltwater fishing can be a day trip or it can mean a long weekend on board.
Freshwater Fishing Around South Texas
Though many will assume you are saltwater fishing when you go to South Texas, there is excellent freshwater fishing here as well. Bass and catfish are perennial favorites throughout the state, sunfish, bluegill and crappie provide fun lake fishing, and the rivers contain some large, ancient treasures like the alligator gar.
Wildlife Viewing in South Texas
The south end of Texas is a world-class location for wildlife viewing. Birders can see the mating dance of the endangered whooping crane, who spends its winter along the coast at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport. Sea turtles and seabirds are in plentiful supply along the coast, as well as dolphins and porpoises. A river cruise through the wilder parts of South Texas may allow you a rare glimpse at the spotted ocelot, a small catlike animal, or the javelina, a species of wild pig.
Diving in South Texas
The reef community along the Southern tip of Texas, particularly around South Padre Island, offer great dive opportunities full of colorful reef fish, exciting coral gardens and large diver favorites like reef sharks and sea turtles.
Preparing to Boat in South Texas
There are a number of things that you should have with you anytime you are boating in Texas. The basics, which you should have everywhere you boat, include proper safety gear and good charts and/or navigation equipment to keep you safe. Be certain the VHF radio works, especially if you are headed offshore, as you want plenty of warning if a squall begins, and cell reception can get spotty. The hot climate and intense sun means that you should have sunglasses (polarized if possible), sunscreen, and plenty of water. Bring a windbreaker/raincoat to protect yourself from sudden weather changes.
A quick note about hurricane season: this region of Texas can get some of the worst storms anywhere in the country. Be certain you have checked the weather, especially during the months of August and September, when the intensity of the storms are the greatest. If you are already out, find shelter immediately. If you have not left on your boating trip, then reschedule after the storm passes and find shelter on land.
Common Boat Types
There are many different boat types to be found in this region. The type you use will depend on your water body and use, unsurprisingly. Along the coast, there is a large sailing community. Both large cruising sailboats and small topside-only sailing boats are common. Saltwater fishing boats can range from fully open to a cabin cruiser or express cruiser with a large deck and plenty of room to sleep and eat. If you are going to explore the rivers and estuaries, fan boats are a popular choice. They are relatively unique to the Gulf Coast states, as this is one of the best places in the US to travel large expanses of estuarine wetlands. Birders and other wildlife explorers like kayaks and canoes, as they offer the ability to get close to nature in a quiet way. Stand-up paddleboards are as popular here as they have become throughout the rest of the country.
Places to Boat in South Texas
The Gulf Coast on the southern border of Texas offers a number of world class boating locations. It is excellent for fishing, wildlife viewing, enjoying watersports or taking a tour. Here is a look at some of the top boating sites along the Gulf Coast:
Boating near Brownsville
As the closest coastal city to Mexico, Brownsville has a definite international flair. It is a border town with a strong multicultural presence, and there are a number of fun festivals to take in, like the Sombrero Festival, that highlights the strong international feel of this town. If you are cruising to Mexico, this will be your last stop in the US to gather supplies. It is a wonderful choice for sport fishing as well.
It is hard to go wrong when it comes to the blue waters and white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast, and Port Lavaca is no exception. It is an excellent home base if you are looking to learn how to do some sport fishing, or if you want a quieter locale than Corpus Christi but access to the same local sites. There is a large commercial port here, which means you will need to be aware of large vessel traffic and avoid boating in shipping lanes. However, there is also a large commercial fishing port, which means plenty of fresh fish, even if you did not manage to catch one yourself.
On the eastern edge of the Gulf Coast, you will find the large port town of Galveston. Again, it is a large fishing and shipping port that also houses a number of marinas. Galveston is an excellent departure point for sailing, for cruising and for sport fishing. If you are looking for a longer adventure, this is the closest point in Texas to New Orleans, and the boat ride is a popular route. If you find yourself landlocked for a day or two here, be certain to check out the aquarium and the gorgeous gothic architecture around town. You will not be disappointed.
As the record holder for the highest recorded wind speeds in North America, sailing and other wind sports like kiteboarding and windsurfing are very popular here. This large metropolitan center is full of resorts, and a popular spring break destination. College sports fans can double up an offshore fishing trip with a Texas A&M football game. This is a great home base with a lot of amenities if you want to discover some of the local islands, dive spots, and wildlife preserves.
This barrier island off the coast of Brownsville is known for its reef community. Dive trips, wind sports (sailing, kiteboarding, wind surfing) and dolphin watching are all extremely popular here. There is also a large sport fishing community. South Padre is a resort-only town that does not have a large metropolitan area, but it is one of the best places to explore watersports in the state. Of special note here is the Padre Island National Seashore. It is part of the migratory bird corridor, and one of the best birding locales in the world. It is home to nesting sea turtles, and one of the few pristine examples of original coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. Divers should take special note, as it is considered the best scuba diving in the state, and there are plenty of opportunities to get certified or take refreshers before renting gear to go out on your own.
There is really no bad place or time to go boating in South Texas. Though much of the boating centers around the saltwater coast, there are hundreds of lakes and rivers to explore as well for swimming, fishing, tubing, waterskiing and more. It is a year-round destination that is warm during cool winters and surprisingly refreshing during hot summers due to the ocean breezes. Spring and fall brings world-travelers coming to watch wildlife. It is the perfect place to indulge in your favorite hobby or discover something new.