That all changed in 1941, at least for part of the river. With the completion of the Kingsley Dam about nine miles north of Ogallala, Lake McConaughy formed. After the dam flooded the river valley, the state stocked the new reservoir with walleye and other fish. The lake quickly garnered a well deserved reputation for producing giant walleye, including the current state record weighing in at 16 pounds, two ounces. “We regularly stock Lake McConaughy with different fish species,” Bauer stated. “We stock walleye every year. Lake “ The lake quickly garnered a well deserved reputation for producing giant walleye, including the current state record weighing in at 16 pounds, 2 ounces. ” McConaughy is consistently one of our best walleye fisheries in the state, especially for big walleye. People catch double-digit fish every year, some in the 13-pound range.” The largest reservoir in Nebraska runs 22 miles along the North Platte River and stretches four miles across at its widest point. At full pool stage, Lake McConaughy covers 35,700 acres and offers anglers about 76 shoreline miles. No longer “an inch deep,” the reservoir drops to more than 165 feet deep in places, particularly near the dam. Water flows into the lake from a 32,500-square-mile watershed stretching into Wyoming.
In 2004, a severe drought
especially northern pike,” advised Darrol Eichner, a Nebraska fisheries biologist in Ogallala. “This newly inundated vegetation provides quite a bit of cover and habitat for fish. We don’t stock northerns in the lake, but some brood stock entered the system years ago. When the lake levels recovered, all that inundated vegetation provided an opportunity for northern pike to reproduce with a couple very strong year classes.” As those good year classes moved through their lifecycles, they produced great numbers of pike. With water levels remaining high, flooded terrestrial vegetation
gripping the Great Plains dropped the lake level to a record 68 feet below pool stage. This exposed large portions of the bottom to sunshine. The dried portions of the lakebed grew up with brush, cottonwoods, willows, and other terrestrial vegetation. By 2011, the lake level returned to full pool. When the waters rose, all that newly inundated vegetation created what biologists call a “new lake syndrome” and opened opportunities to catch another trophy species besides walleye. “All species benefit from that flooded vegetation and structure,
44 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
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