Herrington Lake: A Popular
Recreation Area For Central Ky.
Fishing Was The Lake's Main Attraction
In The 1950s
Editor's Note: James Leavell of Danville,
Kentucky, shares this article on the recreation history of Herrington
Lake. Warm weather is rapidly approaching and readers might find
Herrington Lake, which is located in Garrard, Mercer, and Boyle
Counties, a nice place to visit.
By James Leavell - 2013
Dix River a tributary of the Kentucky River
was dammed up, around 1925, creating Herrington Lake. The purpose
of this dam was to provide electric service for the Central Kentucky
area. The lake also provided recreation for the same area. On
weekends it was popular to head to the lake which was only about
30 miles from Lexington, Fayette County, and four miles from
the communities of Danville, Boyle County, and Harrodsburg,
This monster catfish was caught by a fellow known as Mr.
Hill near Chenault Bridge on Lake Herrington in 1959. Jim Leavell,
author of this article, helped him carry it up the hill to the
highway. John Tudor, who is shown holding the fish, walked up
and down US HWY 34 telling people he caught the fish with a cane
pole. Mr. Hill caught the catfish in a trap, and it weighed in
at a little more than 75 pounds. Herrington Lake was created
by Kentucky Utilities and is located in Mercer, Garrard, and
Boyle Counties. (Photo courtesy of Jim Leavell.)
Fishing was the main attraction. The white bass
would run up the lake to the rapids of Dix River to spawn in
the spring. Usually this occurred when the redbuds were blooming.
It was one of the most beautiful sites with fishermen catching
long stringers of fish. There was also an activity called "jumps"
which was when the white bass would feed on schools of shad,
which could happen anytime during the year. Sometimes large areas
would churn with hundreds of white bass feeding on shad. The
lake was also known for crappie (i.e. newlights or slabs), which
were plentiful. Many of these fish enjoyed the protective cover
of the trees left in the lake when the dam flooded the Dix River.
Redgate fishing dock was a favorite of the firemen and policemen
from Lexington. Using a casting lure (white doll fly) one could
catch a large crappie every few casts. My mother, Marian Lee,
had an interest in the dock, and it keep me busy dipping fishing
boats, which were pretty basic and often leaked even in dry weather.
In the morning Mother would dip the water out of the lake to
make coffee. Everyone loved that coffee. Huge's Dock had a fishing
parlor for winter fishing. A potbellied stove provided some heat.
Being a teenager, I found this as exciting as watching paint
On the upper end of the lake around Chenault Bridge a fellow
with the last name of Hill caught a 75-pound catfish, which I
helped him carry up the hill. One of the fellows who lived next
door walked up and down US HWY 34 with the fish slung over his
shoulder. Cars would stop, and he told them he caught the fish
on a cane pole under the blue bridge. For many weeks the area
had lots of fishermen. Mother said it was okay to lie about fishing.
I use to fish with a surface bait which was handmade by my stepfather,
John Lee. The bait was attached to a strong cane pole which was
dragged across the surface. When a bass would hit it, it would
scare the fisherman. One morning a black bass hit this bait and
broke a new 25-pound line. Mr. Beckett was with me and said he
had never seen a bass that big before. He was an avid fisherman
and would not lie.
A neighbor across the lake named Mr. Hamm would fly fish in the
morning and usually caught several black bass before he went
to work at Kentucky Utilities. He fished in a small aluminum
boat, which had a ten-horsepower Johnson motor (red and white
model). When he would head for the dock, the motor started with
one pull of the cord, and he never created a wake.
The small boat allowed him to use a skull paddle rather than
an electric motor. Frog gigging was also a nightly summer activity.
It was easy to fill a fish basket full of large frogs in a couple
hours. It has been several years since I have heard any frogs
in this area of the lake.
In the late 1950s the outboard motors increased in horsepower
and skiing and other water sports became popular. The trees that
protected the fish became a hazard to fast boats. Oil drums,
the 55-gallon type, were used to keep docks afloat and would
leak. When they were partially filled with water they would damage
the lower units of the outboards or bottoms of the boats.
Gwinns Island had a ski jump and a wooden swimming pool. About
a mile up the lake from Gwinns Camp is a rock ledge, called the
"hogs back," which sticks out into the lake. During
times of high water, this rock ledge claimed many boats and motors.
The lake being over 200 feet deep at the dam has many stories,
most of which lack evidence. This is especially true of the Herrington
Lake monster. Several divers working on the dam have claimed
to have seen huge catfish. I have seen one the size of a mid-sized
man next to the Kamp Kennedy dock. A sad part of this epilog
is the lack of white bass jumps, the crappie decline, and the
disappearance of the frogs. The days when Coleman lanterns lined
the banks and docks appear to be over. There are still bass tournaments
and reports of good catches (i.e. large mouth bass, large crappie,
and pan fish). Usually the best catches are by people who know
the lake and where to fish.
To my knowledge, several water studies have been performed on
Lake Herrington but are not written so the general public can
understand the information.
James Leavell, 146 Colonial Way, Danville,
KY 40422, shares this article with our readers.