Lake McConaughy, Nebraska, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Nebraska - Prairie Lakes -

Also known as:  Big Mac

Lake McConaughy, commonly called Big Mac, is Nebraska’s largest reservoir with 30,500 acres and 76 shoreline miles. Lake McConaughy is conveniently located near Interstate 80 in southwestern Nebraska’s Prairie Lakes region near the city of Ogallala, the county seat of Keith County. Although Big Mac was created to serve as an irrigation reservoir and hydroelectric plant for southwest Nebraska, the lake is a major recreation destination for fishing, boating, sailing, windsurfing, water sports, camping and hunting.

The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District created Lake McConaughy by impounding the North Platte River. The Kinsley Dam was built between 1936 and 1941 as part of the New Deal Project. Kinsley Dam is one of the world’s largest earthen dams, 3.1 miles long and 162 feet high. Today, Big Mac provides irrigation water to more than 220,000 acres along the Platte and North Platte Rivers and hydropower to Nebraska homes, farms, and industries. At normal conservation pool, Lake McConaughy covers 30,500 acres; at full capacity the lake’s surface increases to 35,700 acres.

Lake McConaughy is a recreational gem known for its sandy beaches and diverse terrain. The eastern portion of Big Mac is dominated by the Kinsley Dam, where waters can reach depths of 135 feet. The wetland areas at the west end are shallow where the North Platte River enters the lake. Grassy sand hills and sandy beaches lined with cottonwood trees span the north shore. Steep cliffs sculpted by wind and water border the lake’s southern shore near the dam, gradually decreasing in height to sandy grassland similar to the north shore. Most development, lake access, and recreation areas are located on Lake McConaughy’s north and south shores. Most private housing and a golf course are located on the south shore.

Lake McConaughy is Nebraska’s best walleye fishery. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission estimates that there are more than 320,000 walleye at the legal size of 15 inches or longer. Record walleye reach up to 29 inches. Other Big Mac species include hook wipers, white bass, catfish, and northern pike. Lake Ogallala, located on the other side of the Kinsley Dam, is Nebraska’s premier trout fishery. Anglers reel in brown and rainbow trout measuring 20 inches or more.

Almost all of the property owned by the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District is leased to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) for recreation and wildlife management. The lake’s shoreline is open to the public for camping, except during nesting season for some bird species. The Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area operates three campgrounds on the north shore: Cedar Vue, Lone Eagle, and Little Thunder. A park entry permit is required. The Lake McConaughy Visitors Center and Water Interpretive Center, located near the dam on a bluff overlooking the lake, include a freshwater aquarium, theater, and a Big Mac community room for meetings and receptions. The Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) encompasses more than 6,200 wetland acres at the west end of the lake. Thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, and sandhill cranes visit the WMA annually, a popular destination for nature lovers and bird watchers. Hunters seek deer, geese, ducks, turkey, and other wildlife at public hunting areas within the WMA.

Drought has significantly impacted the North Platte River and Lake McConaughy since the turn of the century. At normal conservation pool, the lake level of Big Mac is 3,265 feet above sea level. Levels dipped below 3,200 feet in 2004-2005, but have been recovering since that time. Because of Lake McConaughy’s large size and depth, anglers, boaters, campers, and wildlife enthusiasts continue to enjoy Big Mac’s recreational opportunities.

Things to do at Lake McConaughy

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish species found at Lake McConaughy

  • Bass
  • Catfish
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Lake McConaughy Photo Gallery

Lake McConaughy Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District

Surface Area: 30,500 acres

Shoreline Length: 76 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,265 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 3,200 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 3,270 feet

Maximum Depth: 135 feet

Water Volume: 1,756,300 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1941

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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