FISHING SMITH LAKE FOR SUPER
STRIPERS


by DALE WELCH, Professional Guide
(5 TIME LAKE RECORD HOLDER)










CATCHING SUPER STRIPERS

Imagine sliding through the pre dawn mist in a Striper rigged fishing boat heading toward the area where huge Stripers are likely to drag your rod tip under water before you have a chance to remove the rod from the holder. Your heart is pounding in anticipation, you feel as if you can't wait to get there. The closer you get the faster your heart beats until finally the sound of your heart drowns out the drone of the outboard motor. Your mind is on one thing only, getting to the fishing area. Finally the boat slows, coming to a stop in what you consider the middle of the lake.

Your guide exclaims, "Well this is it". There is much haste as your guide begins to set up the rods, hooking a shad on each. Shad bigger than some of the Crappie you have caught in the past. After all rods are baited and placed in the rod holders, the pace slackens. Your guide turns to you and says, "The hurry up part is over, now the waiting begins". Just about the time you have recovered from all the anticipation, one of the rod tips disappears underneath the water's surface. Your guide calmly instructs you to remove the rod from it's holder and set the hook. Immediately upon hook set your rod bends almost double as some unseen underwater "THING"

stretches the line, causing the reel to moan and groan. As you strain to keep the rod tip high, the spool of line gets smaller. "What do I do now?" you ask. "Just hang on and keep your rod tip about at 10 O'clock" comes the response. Finally the spool on the reel begins to slow and then stops. "Now you can begin to reel him in" instructs your guide. With much muscle power you wind the reel handle. It is almost more than you can do to turn the handle while keeping the rod tip high. Just about the time you think you're going to get a glance at the "Thing", all you see is a large swirl on the surface of the water and line begins peeling off the reel for the second time. Fortunately for you, this "run" is not quite as long as the first.

After two more "runs" and near exhaustion for you, your guide slips the net under a 30 pound "Super Striper" and hauls it into the boat. "Want to do it again?", your guide asks as you slump into the chair. "Sure", you respond, "but can we wait a few minutes, my knees are a little weak and my arms are aching." No sooner had the words left your mouth when another rod tip disappeared under the water's surface. Such is the way it happens many times Striper fishing on Smith Lake.




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SMITH LAKE STRIPER HISTORY



Smith Lake was filled to normal pool (510 elevation) in 1962, Some 3 years ahead of the engineers predictions. Stripers were first stocked as 1 inch long hatchlings in 1983 and by May of 1996 had grown into 45 pound "Super Stripers". This year has the possibility of producing a "Super Striper" perhaps as large as 55 to 60 pounds. Smith lake, considered by many to be the lake in Alabama to stay away from when it came to fishing, was suddenly offering the most exciting new freshwater fishing in the state. The state kept the lake free of Stripers and Hybrids prior to 1983 as the basis for an experiment. Unlike other impoundments through out the state that were stocked with east coast (Atalantic) Stripers, Smith was stocked with Gulf Coast Strain. The rapid growing Gulf Coast Strain was believed to be more tolerant of warm water and how it fared would be a factor in the fish being introduced into other state lakes. Gulf Coast Strain Stripers did fare well having an average growth rate of more than five pounds per year. One could say the state's experiment was a whopping success.

In the beginning not many people were aware of the Striper's presence. I first discovered them (quite by accident) while Bass fishing in Lick Creek using only a flasher style depth finder. I thought I had found a huge school of Spotted Bass suspended at about 30 feet deep. I immediately dropped my trusty 3/4 ounce spoon to about 28 feet and began my up, down jigging routine. Having the transducer mounted on the trolling motor, I was able to observe the "blips" from the spoon and the fish simultaneously. After the third rise and fall of the spoon I saw one of the "blips" move upward toward the spoon. As the two "blips" merged, I felt the spoon stop and pulled up sharply on the rod. Much to my surprise, nothing moved except the spool of the reel as the drag operated. I was again surprised when the line began to move rapidly toward horizontal and peeled from the reel so fast it warmed the thumb with which I attempted to slow the spool. I began to give chase with the trolling motor.

After three or four trips back and forth to the middle of the creek, I finally netted the most unusual Spotted Bass I had ever caught. I simply could not believe my eyes. This freak of nature exhibited a very pearly white color with black dotted lines down both sides. Before leaving the creek that day, my son and I boated 10 more of these freaks of nature. Upon arriving back at the Marina, we created a stir. It seemed that no one was sure what these fish were. We managed to weigh them and they all fell between six and ten pounds. I did not know for sure until the following Monday morning that what my son and I had caught was called a Saltwater Striped Bass.

Needless to say, from that time on, my Spotted Bass fishing suffered greatly as I began to chase Stripers. It wasn't long before the word leaked out and I had much company in my pursuit of Stripers. By September of that year I had managed to catch a number of Stripers including one considered to be a lake record at the time of 13.5 pounds.

Having good success catching Stripers since 1985, I decided to open the first Striper guide service on the lake in October of 1988. By April of 1989 I had managed to establish an average weight of 21.5 pounds, unlocking the secrets of Striper fishing on Smith Lake. Other fishermen began to utilize these practices and soon they became common knowledge. Not long after, other guides appeared and Striper fishing was off and running.

The lake record has been broken numerous times since 1985. I have held the record five times, the most recent a 45 pound "Mean Machine", caught by Sandra Stewart on May 17, 1996 while on a guide trip with me. Somewhere out there lurks a smart old 60 plus pound "Super Striper" with a place in his bony jaw for my hook. Giving someone (me I hope) the opportunity to break the 55 pound state record.




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STRIPER IMPACT



The introduction of stripers into Smith Lake meant many positive things for the lake. Primarily it meant a new fishery for those who lived in the vicinity. Smith Lake is full of Bass, Crappie and other game fish, but the deep clear water means tough fishing for those unaccustomed to that type of fishing. Consequently causing the "Lake to stay away from" reputation. Striper fishing has changed that. As the waves of new Striper fishermen began to pour onto the lake, the surrounding stores and marinas saw an immediate increase in business. Probably most importantly, it meant a boon to Bass fishing. Not only did the Stripers take some of the pressure off Bass fishing, as the stripers reached bigger sizes, they began to eat the larger Gizzard Shad, unable to be eaten by smaller game fish, as their primary food source. Suddenly large schools of small shad (perfect food source for smaller game fish) began appearing all over the lake. Biologists directly attributed the disappearance of the large sickly shad, that were in no condition to reproduce, to the stripers. With the large Shad not consuming their food source (primarily algae) the smaller, healthier Shad were able to reproduce in greater numbers, thereby providing plenty of food for Bass and Crappie. Some people, including Bass fishermen, cried out in protest over the introduction of the Stripers into the lake claiming they were eating bass and crappie. The fact is that since 1989 it has taken more pounds (as much as 35 pounds in a recent national tournament) to win a Bass tournament on Smith Lake than in the previous 10 years. As for the Crappie, more fat 2 to 3 pound whites and blacks have been taken than in any years previous. Many times over Crappie fishermen have limited out in less than half a day. It is your time to decide. If you provide more food for Bass and Crappie will more of them survive?


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SEASONAL PATTERNS



Get ready for some slightly different Striper moves than perhaps you have been accustomed to on other lakes. Starting with January, Stripers can be found scattered from the upper ends of the creeks all the way to the dam, depending upon the weather. February is still much the same. March usually begins a general move toward the upper ends of the lake and some Stripers will even travel into narrow and shallow (2 to 3 ft) creeks. April, Stripers can be found scattered over the upper end of the lake from halfway to the dam and up. This general pattern holds until around June when the majority of Stripers will be found on the lower end of the lake from halfway to the dam and down. As the surface temperature continues to warm through July, August, September and October, more concentrations of stripers will be found close to the dam. Depending upon the weather, November may or may not bring on a migration to the upper end of the lake. The most likely to occur is a scattering from one end of the lake to the other. Much the same can be expected during December, which brings us full circle for the calendar year. So far year to year, month to month patterns have not been dependably repeatable. Perhaps the behavior of the Gulf Coast Strain Striper, as compared to the Atlantic Coast Strain, coupled wiht Smith Lake's ultra clear water has something to do with the somewhat erratic behavior. If I had to provide a single reason for this phenomenon, I probably would blame the weather. At least some of the scattering of Stripers is due to the deep cool waters all over the lake. While some Stripers migrate, others simply move a few hundred yards or less to deeper cooler water.


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SPAWNING



No spawning of Stripers has been noted or expected to occur on Smith Lake by the state biologists. The reason being insufficient length of flowing tributaries into the lake. Every year Stripers go through the spawning process beginning in March, when they start to feed up in anticipation of a spawn in April. Eggs are produced by the females and milt by the males, but eggs are never dropped for fertilization because the right conditions are never found. What does occur is brood fish round up time for the state game and fish personnel. With some assistance from area Striper fishermen and the dedication of Welch Guide Service, large (20 to 30 lbs.) males and females are caught and carefully transported to the Hatchery for spawning at exactly the right time. Upon hatching and shortly following loss of egg sacks, the hatchlings are transported to the various lakes and rivers for stocking.

At the end of the spawning period, having not laid their eggs, females have the unique capability of absorbing them back into their system. During this time the females do not feed well and consequently lose weight, not only from not eating, but the egg absorption process is apparently very stressful. Many Striper fishermen feel that a 30 pound fish caught during this time would normally weigh 8 to 10 pounds more a month earlier.




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EQUIPMENT


Good equipment is essential in catching Smith Lake "super Stripers". A custom made Striper rod with an expensive reel is nice, but in most everyday Striper fishermen's opinion and pocket book, an overkill. Careful selection of a Bass flipping' stick equipped with a Diawa Millionaire or 9M Penn reel is the choise of the better professional guides and will land even the drag burning "Big Boys". Reels are selected for having a smooth non sticking drag system and a wide spool for holding at least 200 yards of line. The rod selected should have good tip flexion and a strong backbone since sudden power moves by a large Striper on a too stiff rod can cause line breakage before the reel's drag system can operate.

A well aerated shad tank is essential to one's success in Striper fishing. I have found that it is not essential to have a perfectly round tank to house shad for a day's fishing. What is essential, as I point out at the beginning of this paragraph, is good aeration of the water and good insulation of the tank. It is also important to properly condition your water by using proper additives such as "Shad Shed Formula" and not to

stress the shad with a sudden change of more than 5 degrees in water temperature.

Rod holders are also essential equipment for Striper fishing, not only because you can't possibly hold on to 5 or 6 rods at one time, but should you lay them down in the boat there is a good chance a Striper will take one with him along with your bait. Many good commercial rod holders are available on the open market so I won't go into detailed description. Simply pick one that best suits your needs. A graph depth recorder, either liquid crystal or paper, is a great help in locating both Stripers and bait fish. In the case of liquid cyrstal display, make sure to get one with a very small pixel size (the more per square inch of screen the better) so that your total screen resolution will be sufficient to recognize the diference between a school of bait fish and a small school of Stripers.

Last, but certainly, not least. Don't forget the boat. After all, this load of equipment has to be mounted somewhere.




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RIGGING



Fill your wide spool reel with 15 lb. to 20 lb. test line. The smaller the diameter the better for smith lake's ultra-clear water. Place a 1.5 ounce or larger egg sinker on the line and follow by tying on a strong swivel. Some prefer to place a bead after the egg sinker. this is not essential as most egg sinkers have large holes and will rest on the swivel and not on the line knot anyway. Tie on a 2.5 to 3 ft. leader and 2/0 to 8/0 hook, depending on the size bait you intend to use. I prefer either a #42 or a short shank Salmon style Eagle Claw laser sharpened hook.

Shad may be hooked in several ways, but through the back (about 1/4 inch down from the top) just in front of the Dorsal fin is the most effective way. When I first started fishing shad for Stripers, I hooked them in one nostril and out the other because I felt they lived longer. Many still use this method today. Hooking the Shad through the back not only allows it to live as long as throught the nostrils, but increases your hookup with a Striper by as much as 80%.

We can't talk about rigging without mentioning the use of balloons as an essential part of the process. During the times of the year when Stripers are shallow (20ft. of less) balloons are the key to catching Stripers in Smith Lake's clear water because the shadow of the boat will spook them. Tie the balloon (blown up to the size of a baseball and tied off with a single overhand knot)

on the line at the depth you intend to fish. Use a single overhand knot to secure the balloon to the line making sure the knot is tight enough to keep the weight and the shad movement from causing it to slip on the line. Allow the ballon to move away from the boat 20 to 50 ft., and this will greatly enhance your chances of hooking up to a Striper.

A sometimes enticing presentation to a Striper, especially during the Fall, is free lining. A free line is nothing more than a standard riged line without the egg sinker. The line is played out 20 or more feet behind as the boat is slowly moved with the electric trolling motor, allowing the Shad to swim freely. In this manner, the Shad can seek his own depth and maybe find a striper in the process. This method can be very exciting when a big Striper chases the Shad to the surface allowing you to witness the catch.

It is always a good idea to keep your favorite top water bait, such as Redfin, rigged and immediatelly available should top water feeding on Shad occur within your casting range. Nothing is more heart stopping than watching a 30 pound Striper explode on a top water artificial bait, especially if he misses the bait the first 3 or 4 times before it finally disappears and you feel the tremendous pull on the line.




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SEEING IS BELIEVING


If you have ever dreamed of fishing a beautiful, deep and mountainous clear water lake for "Trophy Stripers", Smith Lake is your kind of Place. Rocky points falling off sharply to deep water, above and below water vertical bluffs reaching depths of up to 100 feet and numerous flats 20 to 50 feet deep coupled with picturesque natural (no houses) scenery combine to make Smith Lake virtually a "Super Striper" haven. Located less than one hour's drive north of Birmingham, Alabama with easy access off of Interstate 65, the Ryan's Creek leg of Smith Lake is the Striper fishing center of the lake.
Live Shad are available from Welch Guide Service ("The Shad Shed" located at 7932 Co. Rd. 310) on the upper end of Ryan's Creek. "The Shad Shed" is open 24 hours a day for the convenience of all wishing to try their luck on Stripers. Shad tanks and accessories are also on hand at Welch Guide Service. Lodging is available at exit 304 on I-65 at Ramada Inn (special rates to Welch Guide Service Customers) or lake side near Welch Guide Service. Smith Lake Park (county operated) is also nearby for campers and motor home users (seasonal).



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GUIDE SELECTION


Last but not least is the importance of selecting a guide for your opportunity to "CATCH A MEMORY". The following list will assist you in that process.

  1. Ask how long he has been fishing Stripers on Smith Lake
  2. Ask if he is willing to share information and techniques with you.
  3. Pay close attention to his personality, after all you don't want to spend a day with someone who doesn't carry on a friendly conversation.
  4. Ask if you may contact him after your trip for accurate fishing information.
  5. If a guarantee or "No Catch, No Pay" offer is advertised, find out exactly what it means. Sometimes the offer is not as it seems. You may have to pay if you don't catch.
  6. Ask how the fishing is now and if he is currently catching fish. If the answer is "I always catch fish" or something similar, RUN, this person is only interested in taking your money.




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    CONCLUSION



    Smith Lake is fast becoming the number one Striper lake in the southeast due to the unbelievable growth rate of the Gulf Coast Strain Stripers in the cool clear water. Striper Fishing on Smith Lake can be lots of fun if you make the right choices, whether it be the use of a guide or out there on your own. Smith Lake is not a numbers lake and don't let anyone fool you into thinking it is, but your chances of hooking onto a big one are very good and at times you can get lucky and catch as a many as you can keep. Remember to play it safe and be courteous to fellow fishermen and other boaters.

    Now is the time to book an exciting "Super Striper" trip. for additional information or bookings please give me a call, E-mail or drop me a line. See you on the lake! Hope you catch a big one!!



    DALE WELCH
    5665 Co. Rd. 310
    CRANE HILL, ALABAMA 35053
    256-737-0541


    E-MAIL

    dwelch@hiwaay.net








    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


    Dale Welch heads the first established full time resident guide service on Smith Lake available for bookings year round. He began fishing specifically for Smith Lake Stripers in early 1985, establishing Welch Guide Service and pioneering Striper fishing on Smith Lake in October of 1988. He has taught many people the art of Striper fishing, including some who now identify as guides. The tecnhiques he has introduced and employed have greatly enhanced Smith Lake Striper fishing for all anglers. his innovation and diligent pursuit of Stripers has allowed him to hold the lake record more times than any other individual since Stripers were introduced in 1983. First in 1985 with a 13.5 pounder, then in 1989 with 30 and 32 pounds and in 1990 of 34.5 pounds. He holds the current lake record, caught May 17, 1996, weighing in at 45 pounds.

    He continues to enjoy his guide service and teaching others the fine art of Smith Lake Striper fishing whether on the lake, during a guide trip or in front of a large audience at a seminar.

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