John's Journal...

Dale Welch- The Striper King

Click to enlargeWhere We Caught ‘Em, and the History of Stripers in Smith Lake

Editor’s Note: One day in 1988, Dale Welch of Crane Hill, Alabama, a biomedical engineer in Birmingham, left his job to go fishing and never returned. No, Welch didn’t vanish. He discovered a new career and a new life as a saltwater striper guide on Smith Lake. Welch has guided for stripers longer than any other guide on Smith Lake and has caught four Smith Lake records. Today, we’ll learn some of Dale’s striper-fishing tactics.

On the day Welch, Hart and I fished, with an air temperature of 98 degrees, we’d gone on the water before daylight and fished Click to enlargedock lights until just after daylight. We were fishing in 28 to 30 feet of water over a 60-foot bottom. “Stripers usually move in toward the dock lights about an hour before daylight and feed on bream and baitfish that have fed all night around the lights,” Welch reports. Once the sun rises, the big stripers move back to their deep-water haunts. During this time of year, you can find the stripers, 30- to 50-feet deep in the water, depending on what kind of fronts are coming onto the lake. The stripers holding in that really-deep water will move up and feed on the bait. Welch uses his depth finder to look for baitfish along the thermocline and as a general rule, the stripers will swim under or Click to enlargenear the baitfish. However, Welch often finds them out in open water not related to the bait.

The History of Gulf Coast Stripers:
The state first stocked Smith Lake with the Gulf Coast strain of stripers in 1983, and today, Smith Lake in Walker and Winston counties cradles the Gulf Coast strain of saltwater stripers. These saltwater stripers once migrated from the Gulf of Mexico up the river systems to spawn each spring. After spawning, the fish would return downstream and out into the Gulf. However, the dam systems erected on many southern coastal rivers, not only along Alabama rivers, altered the striper’s migration pattern. And for many years, biologists feared the extinction of the Gulf Coast striper. To prevent the loss of this fish, biologists of Alabama’s Fisheries Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) chose Smith Lake to become the depository of the Gulf Coast strain of saltwater stripers. Because Alabama’s Fisheries SectClick to enlargeion did such as excellent job of protecting these fish, now many southern state agencies come to Alabama to get the Gulf Coast strain of saltwater striper to stock in their reservoirs.
This Gulf Coast strain of saltwater stripers has much more heat tolerance than the Atlantic strain of saltwater stripers, which biologists stocked in reservoirs throughout the country for many years. Today, Alabama’s Fisheries Section catches female Gulf Coast saltwater stripers from Smith Lake, artificially spawns these fish and uses the fingerlings created to stock many of the lakes in Alabama and across the South.

To schedule a striper fishing trip with Dale Welch, contact him at: 7932 County Road 312, Crane Hill, AL 35053, (256) 737-0541,,

Tomorrow: How to Catch ‘Em

Check back each day this week for more about "Dale Welch- The Striper King"

Day 1: Angling with The Striper King
Day 2: Where We Caught ‘Em, and the History of Stripers in Smith Lake
Day 3: How to Catch ‘Em
Day 4: Why Depth Finders and Trolling Motors Spell Striper Success
Day 5: How Dale Welch Became a Striper Guide on Smith Lake and a Super Striper Recipe


Entry 366, Day 2