Lake McConaughy: The Family Fishing Reservoir

Lake McConaughy is a reservoir located on the North Platte River in Nebraska, listed as one of the Top 100 Family Places to Fish and Boat in the U.S. by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.

Lake McConaughy Stats

Lake NameLake McConaughy
CountryUnited States
Surface area145.000
Maximum depth43.3
Lake typeReservoir
Catchment area77300.00
Shore length122.00
Dam height52
Dam year1941
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Construction of the Reservoir

McConaughy Reservoir was named after Charles W. McConaughy, a simple grain merchant and the mayor of Holdrege Nebraska, who was one of the leaders of the project. Through his public power and leadership skills he aimed at the implementing an irrigation project which would help Nebraska become one of the leading agricultural states of the country.

The construction of the lake ran between 1936 and 1941, with a full capacity of 2.15 km3, covering an area of 144 km2 and boasting 122 kilometers of shoreline, thus being the largest reservoir in Nebraska. The reservoir is fed by the North Platte River, has a length of 35 km, a width of 6.4 km and a depth of 43 meters. The water flows into the reservoir from a 84,000 km2 drainage area, located at the western end of the dam.

Not only a successful project considering irrigation, but also a triumphant result for locals, as the Depression-era construction provided steady jobs for over 1,5000 people. Like the US Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs in Wyoming, McConaughy too captures precipitation and snowmelt from the surrounding mountains and utilizes the water for hydroelectric production and irrigation within the North Platte Projects.

At the eastern end of Kingsley dam a smaller lake can be found called Lake Ogalla or “Little Lake”. It boasts rocky shores, ideal for camping and fishing. Water flows out of the McConaughy Reservoir, through the Morning Glory and out on the other side of the dam through the hydroelectric plant, into Little Lake. From here, water continues to flow down the North Platte River.

Dam History

The lake was formed with the help of Kingsley Dam, located at its eastern end, which was the second largest hydraulically-filled earthen dam, following Fort Peck Dam, at its time of completion. Kingsley Dam is 49 meters tall, 5 kilometers long and was named after George P. Kingsley, a banker who helped C.W. McConaughy in promoting the ambitious project.

Its construction was made possible by pumping the sand and gravel from the riverbed to contour the lake’s sides, all the while pumping a combination of water and loess soil into the structure’s hub to form the watertight core. A wall of interlocked sheet piling tied to the impenetrable Brule clay formation prevents seepage under the dam. More than a million tons of rock is laid down in several layers protect the dam’s façade. Kingsley Hydroplant, located at the southern end of the dam, went on-line in 1984.

Tourism and Leisure

Lake McConaughy is often referred to as “Big Mac”, due to the fact that the reservoir’s fish often grow to trophy sizes. It is situated 14 kilometers north of Ogallala, Nebraska, close to US Highway 26 and Nebraska Highway 61.

Walleye, white bass, stripers, catfish, northern pikes and tiger muskies are most often encountered in the waters. Local anglers prize the walleye most highly, whilst the white bass fish is also top ranked. Hunting for waterfowl in the fall months is also a popular pastime. Merriam Turkeys, Canadian and Snow Geese, Pheasants, Grouse and Quail are the abundant waterfowl in the area.

The surroundings of McConaughy reservoir are mainly made up of rolling hills, wooded land, open fields and marshlands. Numerous RVs, campgrounds, inns and bed&breakfasts can be found scattered around the lake.

The Ash Hollow State Historical Park is a modern interpretative center showcasing the area’s geology, paleontology and prehistoric history, located at the western end of the reservoir. The longest-running summer stock theater production of Nebraska can also be found on the lakeshore and is called the Front Street Crystal Palace Revenue. Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse has over 200 trophy mounts on display, while the Petrified Wood Gallery also lures in a lot of tourists.

A State Recreation Area is maintained and operated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Tourists can find a visitor center at the southern end of the lake, boasting a theater, a gift shop and an information office.

Lake McConaughy Map