The complex between the short splice variant of the ninth member of the RGS protein family and the long splice variant of type 5 G protein beta subunit (RGS9-Gbeta5L) plays a critical role in regulating the duration of the light response in vertebrate photoreceptors by activating the GTPase activity of the photoreceptor-specific G protein, transducin. RGS9-Gbeta5L is tightly associated with the membranes of photoreceptor outer segments; however, the nature of this association remains unknown. Here we demonstrate that rod outer segment membranes contain a limited number of sites for high affinity RGS9-Gbeta5L binding, which are highly sensitive to proteolysis. In membranes isolated from bovine rod outer segments, all of these sites are occupied by the endogenous RGS9-Gbeta5L, which prevents the binding of exogenous recombinant RGS9-Gbeta5L to these sites. However, treating membranes with urea or high pH buffers causes either removal or denaturation of the endogenous RGS9-Gbeta5L, allowing for high affinity binding of recombinant RGS9-Gbeta5L to these sites. This binding results in a striking approximately 70-fold increase in the RGS9-Gbeta5L ability to activate transducin GTPase. The DEP (disheveled/EGL-10/pleckstrin) domain of RGS9 plays a crucial role in the RGS9-Gbeta5L membrane attachment, as evident from the analysis of membrane-binding properties of deletion mutants lacking either N- or C-terminal parts of the RGS9 molecule. Our data indicate that specific association of RGS9-Gbeta5L with photoreceptor disc membranes serves not only as a means of targeting it to an appropriate subcellular compartment but also serves as an important determinant of its catalytic activity.