Articles & Stories

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, Mercer County.

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 dry.
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.