Hooking Stripers

Reed Bullock, Cale Bullock, and John Bullock proudly show off the early catches of the day.

Experienced guides on Lake Martin could be the key to landing big fish and bagging limits

For men, asking for help or guidance is a tough thing.

Asking for directions and help lifting heavy things fit into that category.

Asking for help fishing would be on the top of that list. Most any man would rather wear that pink shirt his mother-in-law bought him last Christmas than admit he needed help catching a fish. That could be grounds for immediate surrender of a man card.

And yet, for years, Lake Martin fishing guides have been helping fishermen land their limits and reduce the likelihood of a frustrating, fish-free day on the water.

There are distinct advantages to swallowing pride and letting a professional put a boat loaded with men – and women – who need help catching fish right on top of the big stripers on Lake Martin, said Mike Walker of Got You Hooked Guide Service.

“There are some really good fishermen who fish Lake Martin regularly,” Walker said. “But for most people who don’t fish as much as they want to, it just makes sense. Everyone’s busy. Say you got some friends in town and you want them to experience what Lake Martin fishing is like. You don’t want to take them out and come up empty.

“Don’t get me wrong, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work. But it is even better when you finish a trip and see that cooler full when you go home.”

Walker has been running trips on Lake Martin off and on for seven years. He said while the lake is one of the great recreational lakes in America, it is becoming known as one of the best in Alabama and the Southeast for striped bass, as well.

Walker joins one of the area’s standards when it comes to fishing for striped bass. Capt. David Hare with Alex City Guide Service has been guiding trips for decades on Lake Martin. Like Walker, Hare knows how to find the fish and what they will be biting when he gets there. It’s rare on a Hare guided trip when the rod tips don’t bounce as the stripers take turns hitting the shad and bream that are lowered into the water for bait.

Using Hare’s unmatched knowledge and the electronic features on his 24-foot boat, trips rarely return to the docks without the limit in the bag.

Hare said that some times of the year are better than others, but with cooling temperatures ahead, the prime of the striper season is on the horizon.

Unlike bass and crappie fishing, striper fishermen can see more success in colder, less ideal weather situations.

“We have had a good year, but with stripers, the tougher the weather, the better,” Hare said. “If it’s raining and cold, we don’t come home. Some of my best days have been where there are sheets of ice in my boat. So the best time for it is coming up.”

Hare said those who book with him do so for a variety of reasons. He said some are visitors who want a great vacation day of catching fish. Others want to learn how and where to fish on their own.

“Some people may have bought a place here and just don’t know the spots or how it works here,” Hare said. “People who see that sometimes ask if it doesn’t make me mad to see former customers fishing my spots. I say no way. That’s what I’m here for. If they want to catch a bunch of fish, we will do our best to do that. If they want to learn, I will share everything I can to help them, too.”

In the last two years, an estimated 500,000 stripers have been added to Lake Martin. That’s on top of what was already a seemingly endless supply of the fish that have grown to monstrous proportions and provide the kind of fight that fishing tales are made of.

Fishing for stripers is popular for numerous reasons. The fish, which typically grow to 40-plus pounds, put up a tremendous fight that is normally reserved for salt-water fishing.

Another reason for the popularity is that stripers of the 40-pound size are ideal for anglers looking to put something beautiful on the wall. If that’s not enough, a properly prepared striped bass is one of the most delectable fish put on a plate.

Walker said that with so many stripers in the lake, it’s easy to assume catching them would be easy. As Coach Lee Corso would say, ‘not so fast my friend.’

“It depends on the time of the year, the temperature of the water and all sorts of factors,” Walker said. “Where and when they may be biting in August is totally different than where we will find them and what they will hit in October and November. Obviously, I’ve got a dog in the hunt, but that’s why a guide is the way to go.”

Walker is so confident that, at times, he even guarantees catching fish. He runs specials that include the policy that a trip will catch eight fish or the outing is free. Some would say that’s a gamble with a $500 trip fee, but he hasn’t surrendered a free excursion yet this year.

On a late August day, Walker hosted an early morning trip with Reed Mitchell of Mitchell Upholstery and John Bullock and his son Cale of Lake Martin Bloom and Bait. They were even handicapped by having an overweight reporter on board who thought he knew a little about fishing.

With a sunrise befitting an Albert Bierstadt canvas as a backdrop, Walker had the group in Kowaliga Bay with four lines deep in the water fewer than 15 minutes after leaving the dock.

And not 10 minutes later on a slow troll, the first of what were dozens of rod-bending hits had the group scrambling.

“Fishing is fun, but catching is much better,” said Mitchell. “It looks like we are on the fish.”

Walker uses depth finders and fish finders but leans heavily on his own experience to get the boat to where the fish are. A combination of baits and depths kept the men in the boat busy all morning.

“Some days are better than others,” Walker said. “But regardless, you want it to be an enjoyable experience. That’s why we are going to have fun, no matter what. Obviously, the fish cooperating helps, but even if we didn’t catch a fish, I would hope that the people would say that was still a great time.”

Walker keeps people laughing with fish tales, laughing at himself and telling about his ideas to make his next fortune.

“I’m thinking about starting a fishing guide captain’s school,” Walker said with a smile. “There are so many guys in their early 20s just hanging out in their parents’ basements trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

“What could be better? They could be deckhands with me for a year, and think of all the free experience they would get. I could help them get their captain’s license and even get them a deal on a boat. I’m sure Mom and Dad would pay anything just to get them out of the house. What do you think?”

While the comedy was good, the fishing was better. It was easy to lose count of the strikes that the group had, but at the end of the day, the limit was met and included a 30-something pounder Cale Bullock landed after a 10-minute fight that left his forearms burning. It was a Kodak moment when the fish was hoisted.

“He flat puts you on the fish,” John Bullock said. “When you think about it, you have four buddies and you come out. You can’t beat it for the money. It sure beats going out and just hoping and praying they hit. This is much more fun.”

To schedule a guided fishing trip with Capt. Mike Walker and Got You Hooked Guide Service, call 205-362-8322. To contact David Hare at Alex City Guide Service, call 256-401-3089 or visit alexcityguideservice.com.