John's Journal...

Dale Welch- The Striper King

How to Catch ‘Em

Click to enlargeEditor’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.

Once Welch locates a school Click to enlargeof stripers on his depth finder, he baits up and tries to catch them. But for many years, catching shad and keeping them alive and active presented another problem, due to the special tanks and complicated filtration systems the shad required. However, Welch has solved the problem and fishes live bait called black salties, which he purchases from I.F. Anderson Farms, Inc. in Lonoke, Arkansas. “These live baits look like goldfish, but they have silver sides, silver flashes and dark backs. I think the stripers like the silver flash that these give off,” Welch says. “This company ships these baits in to me FedEx overnight, and they live well, just like goldfish do.”

Welch uses a No. 3/0 circle hook with the black salties. “I like the circle hook because it usually hooks the stripers in the lips, so if the customer or I want to return the fish to the water, we can usually release the striper, and it will surviClick to enlargeve.” Coming off the hook, going up the line, Welch has about 3 feet of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon leader and ties it to a No. 3 barrel swivel. Above the barrel swivel, he attaches a 1-1/2-ounce egg sinker onto his 20-pound-test monofilament line. Welch uses a medium-heavy-action baitcasting rod with a reasonably-limber tip and a wide-spool Ryobi baitcasting reel. “The key is having a really-smooth drag system on the reel because these stripers will pull drag off,” Welch advises. “If you have a reel that sticks and holds the line tighter than its pound weight class, the striper will break off.” Welch places a rod in each of his four rod holders and sets the drag on each tight enough to set the hook on the striper, yet loose enough so the striper can pull drag off after the initial strike when the fish starts to run. Welch waits until the striper pulls the rod down and then sets the hook before he tells his anglers to pick up the rod aClick to enlargend start reeling.

Today at Smith Lake, the average striper Welch catches weighs 10 to 20 pounds, and, on occasion, 20 to 30 pounds. Welch holds the Smith Lake record with a striper that weighed 45 pounds on certified scales. Welch says an angler can expect to catch from zero to 10 fish in one day and offers advice for anglers who have trouble catching stripers. “If you don’t catch stripers within 6 hours of fishing at Smith Lake, then you’re either fishing at the wrong time of day, you haven’t found a school of fish, or the stripers are in a non-feeding mood,” Welch reports. Welch explains that peak fishing times for stripers vary depending on the season:
* summer to early fall — 4 am to 10 am or earlier;
* October-December — daylight until 12:00 noon;
* January-February — daylight until noon; and
* spring — daylight until 10 am.

“In the middle of the day, I’ve learned the stripers are searching for the deepest water they can find to stay cool and to get away from the sunlight,” Welch says. He looks for stripers usually off the main channel where he can find deep water in a creek or a slough. “The worst time to fish for stripers is on the weekends because all the recreational boaters we have on Smith Lake make the fish really skittish. I think the boat traffic spooks the stripers so badly that they hardly feed on the weekends.” When the boat traffic starts in the spring on Smith Lake, and especially in the summer with no school and so many boaters, Welch fishes only from Tuesday to Saturday mornings. But when everyone’s attending football games and hunting deer, you can enjoy fine weekend fishing throughout the fall and winter.

To schedule a striper fishing trip with Dale Welch, contact him at: 7932 County Road 312, Crane Hill, AL 35053, (256) 737-0541,, For more information on Dale Welch’s bait of choice, visit, or contact: I.F. Anderson Farms, Inc., 4377 Hwy. 70 West, Lonoke, AR 72086, Website: Phone: 1-877-GO-SALTY (467-2589), 1-800-206-4666, 501-676-2716, Fax: 501-676-2718.

Tomorrow: Why Depth Finders and Trolling Motors Spell Striper Success

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 3