Discover the Deepest Lake in Kentucky

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: December 10, 2022
© TcHampel/Shutterstock.com
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Kentucky’s landscape is varied with the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Ohio River on the north. The Mississippi River flows along the western border and the massive Kentucky Lake is on the southern border crossing into Tennessee. Other pristine lakes, both good sized and smaller, dot the bluegrass state creating habitats for wildlife and recreation areas for people. When it comes to the deepest lakes, the biggest lakes are often the deepest but not always. Kentucky Lake, Lake Cumberland and Lake Barkley are the three biggest lakes in Kentucky but are they the deepest? Let’s find out all about the deepest lake in Kentucky!

What is the Deepest Lake in Kentucky?

The deepest lake in Kentucky is Herrington Lake. That may surprise you since the namesake Kentucky Lake is the biggest, but Kentucky Lake is only 74 feet at the deepest point. Herrington Lake is 249 feet deep at its deepest point! The lake is located about 70 miles southeast of Louisville, KY and is not one of the biggest lakes at all. Herrington Lake is only 3.68 square miles, compare that to the 250.5 square miles of Kentucky Lake!

Herrington Lake is the deepest lake in Kentucky
Herrington Lake is the deepest lake in Kentucky with a depth of 249 feet.

©William Bell / Flickr – License

Why is Herrington Lake so Deep?

Some lakes are formed by glaciers; others are created by filling-in old volcano craters. There are naturally made lakes and man-made lakes built by damming prominent rivers. Herrington Lake is the latter; it is a man-made reservoir that was created when by the Dix Dam was built on the Dix River. The river is a tributary of the Kentucky River and the project is now used to create hydroelectric power. The dam was built in 1925 and it used cutting edge engineering to create the biggest earth-filled dam in the world of the time. The deepest point on Herrington Lake is near the dam.

Dix River in Kentucky
When the Dix Dam was built on the Dix River it created the man-made reservoir known as Herrington Lake.

©Brian Stansberry, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

Is Herrington Lake a Recreational Lake?

Yes! Herrington Lake has several cities along its shore including Harrodsburg, Bryantsville, Wilmore, Nicholasville and Burgin. There are resorts, marinas, restaurants and campgrounds all along the shores of Herrington. While you may think of a “lake” as a large oval collection of water, Herrington follows the twists and turns of the Dix River. The lake is great for boating, jet skiing, paddle boarding and of course fishing.

How is the Fishing on Herrington Lake?

The fishing on Herrington Lake is excellent and well stocked. You will find a variety of fish from smaller bluegills all the way up to trophy sized catfish. It is common to catch crappie, largemouth bass, spotted bass, white bass and hybrid striped bass.

Are there any State Fishing Records from Herrington Lake?

Yes! Actually there’s a tie. The biggest white bass ever caught in Kentucky is from Herrington Lake. The 5 pounder tied the record that was previously set way back on July 11, 1943. The “new” record is not that new, being set June 3, 1957. Lorne Eli of Dawson Springs caught the first record breaking white bass and the record was tied by B.B. Hardin of Mt. Eden. The first record was set on Kentucky Lake and the Herrington Lake catch was the tie.

Herrington Lake, Kentucky
The biggest white bass ever caught in Kentucky is from Herrington Lake.

©iStock.com/JerryGrugin

Are there any other State Fishing Records from Kentucky Lake?

Yes! Think about the sheer number of anglers that target Kentucky Lake. That alone should produce a few trophy sized catches. Besides the white bass there have been a few state record breakers and even one world record holder! The biggest smallmouth bass in the world is recorded to be caught in Dale Hollow Lake by David L. Hayes on July 9, 1955. Hayes was from Leitchfield, KY and his 11 pound 15 ounce smallmouth has held the record for more than 67 years.

Another “smallmouth” record is for the biggest smallmouth buffalo which weighed in at 55 pounds, caught on Kentucky Lake on March 23, 2000 by Clinton Roby. The largest spotted gar was caught by Jonathan Huether on July 20, 2014 with the new record being 4 pounds 7 ounces. The yellow perch record is also from Kentucky Lake with a 1 pound 7 ounce perch being caught by Klint Thaxton on March 12, 2010. The fishing is clearly good on Kentucky Lake!

How Deep is Lake Cumberland?

Lake Cumberland is around 200 feet deep. Similar to Herrington Lake, it is the deepest near the dam. Lake Cumberland is a man-made lake created for flood control and for hydroelectric power. It is located in south central Kentucky on the Cumberland River. It is the self-proclaimed “Houseboat Capital of the World”. You will need to reimagine your concept of “houseboat” after reviewing some of the luxury houseboats available for rent. One of the rentals has 8 private bedrooms, 3 ½ bath, a two-story tube slide and 12 person hot tub! Now that is house boating in style!

Are there any Fishing Records from Lake Cumberland?

Yes! The biggest sturgeon ever caught in Kentucky was a 36 pound 8 ounce sturgeon caught by Barney Frazier. His record dates back to October 3, 1954. Even bigger than that was a striped bass (sometimes called a rockfish) that weighed in at 58 pounds 4 ounces! The Striped bass record is held by Roger Foster from Somerset, KY and was set on December 11, 1985. If you have ever had a parmesean-crusted walleye you understand why walleye is highly sought after fish. The biggest walleye ever caught in Kentucky was a 21 pound 8 ounce walleye caught by Abe Black on Lake Cumberland back in October of 1958. Dinner is served!

Lake Cumberland in Kentucky
Lake Cumberland is known for trophy bass and walleye fishing.

©TcHampel/Shutterstock.com

How Deep is Lake Barkley?

Lake Barkley is 68 feet deep at the deepest point. At 58,000 acres it is understandably the third largest lake in Kentucky. It crosses over into Tennessee and spans 134 miles. As a man-made lake it was created by damming the Cumberland River with the Barkley Dam.

How is the Fishing on Lake Barkley?

The fishing is actually pretty good on Lake Barkley with good sized crappie, bass and catfish. When it comes to record breaking fish you have to take this one with a grain of salt. There is a state record holder pulled from Lake Barkley, but it weighed less than a pound…that’s right, it weighed less than a bag of M&M’s. The “biggest” logperch ever caught in Kentucky was a .08 pounder caught by Marietta Strange on November 4, 2013. Not sure if that was a catch and release or one you would mount above your fireplace! The record is legit and has been unbroken for 9 years and counting.

Lake Barkley, Kentucky third largest lake in the state.
Lake Barkley is the third largest lake in Kentucky at 58,000 acres.

©Cameron Sumner/Shutterstock.com

How does the Deepest Lake in Kentucky Compare to the Deepest Lake in the US?

Herrington Lake is 249 feet deep and the deepest lake in the US is 1,943 feet deep. Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in the US, quite a bit deeper than the deepest lake in Kentucky. Crater Lake is not a man-made lake created by a dam, it is a natural lake formed in the crater of an old volcano from thousands of years ago. All of the water that is in Crater Lake is either from rain or snow melt so you can imagine how crisp and clear the lake is.

There are not any houseboats on Crater Lake and there are only two kinds of fish that thrive in the lake so very different than the lakes in Kentucky. You can swim in Crater Lake but expect it to be a brief swim due to the cool temps. At Herrington Lake in the summer a dip in the lake would be a welcome relief from the heat.

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The Featured Image

Lake Cumberland, Kentucky.
Beautiful summer day on Lake Cumberland, Kentucky.
© TcHampel/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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Sources
  1. Kentucky Tourism, Available here: https://www.kentuckytourism.com/harrodsburg/natural-attractions/nature-wildlife/herrington-lake
  2. Kentucky State Parks, Available here: https://parks.ky.gov/jamestown/parks/resort/lake-cumberland-state-resort-park
  3. International Game Fish Association, Available here: https://igfa.org/igfa-world-records-search/?search_type=CommonNameSummary&search_term_1=Bass%2C+smallmouth