Lake Kemp filled in 1924, unless they'd been to the ocean,
West Texans had never seen so much water in one place.
Formed by damming the Wichita River in 1923, the lake covered 15,357
square feet with a capacity of 268,811 acre feet of water. Located
roughly 40 miles west of Wichita
Falls, not only was Lake Kemp the largest lake in Texas, at the
time it was the seventh-largest man-made lake in the world.
Naturally, normally water-craving folks stampeded to the new lake
like a runaway herd of thirsty Longhorns.
"Lake Kemp is becoming one of the most popular places in this section
for people to spend their Sundays...," the Vernon Record said
on May 24, 1924. "Hundreds of people...leave here early Sunday morning
and spend the day at the lake, having their lunch, picnic style, on
the banks...and spending the day enjoying the great outdoors."
|Hotel at Lake
Lauren Bush, Economic Development Director, City of Seymour
| The article
went on to say that the road between Vernon
and the lake "on Sundays has the appearance of an important highway
with its continuous line of cars carrying the pleasure seekers to
and from the new lake."
But all the people going to Lake Kemp were simply out for an al fresco
meal. The lake had been stocked with fish. As it turned out, the fishing
was too good.
A year after the lake opened, the Vernon
newspaper reported that the North Texas Game and Fish Association
had persuaded the governor to sign a bill making it illegal to take
any fish from the lake during March and April. That two-month piscatorial
prohibition, an officer of the association explained, would give the
fish time to multiply "before they were taken in great numbers."
For anyone who liked to fish, the new law had the effect of making
May 1 opening day of fishing season. (A lot of states have fishing
seasons, but this was only a local bill. Texas has never had a statewide
While Vernon residents
obviously enjoyed the lake, the impoundment lay even closer to another
county seat, Seymour.
Lake Kemp being only nine miles from town, people there began to see
Kemp as their lake.
The lake's proximity to Seymour,
the implementation of a fishing season, and the propensity of Baylor
County residents to fish its waters set the hook on what was either
one of the most benevolent acts ever on the part of a city official
or one of the cleverest public relations stunts in Texas history.
Observing the number of locally owned businesses closing on May 1
so that their owner could go fishing, in 1925 Seymour's mayor made
it official: Henceforth, on May 1 the town would shut down for Go
Fishing Day. The move spawned nationwide publicity.
"The only news conducive of calmness," wrote New York Sun front page
columnist Dave Boone, "is that the town of Seymour,
Texas closed all courts, schools, banks, and business houses to
observe an official fishing holiday. Now there is an idea. Nothing
would bring us back to a calm, peaceful attitude than a day's fishing.
If all of Europe, for instance, would go fishing for 24 hours, it
would just about restore order, common sense, and a proper sense of
right and wrong."
Seymour's "gone fishing"
holiday continued through the Great Depression, the violent run-up
to World War Two
and even during the war when then mayor C.M. Randal said the May 1
holiday was "a gesture of defiance to dictators who would allow no
more fish days."
On May 1, 1953 a nationally syndicated newspaper cartoon called "Strange
as it Seems," noted beneath a drawing of two fishermen in a boat that
"May Day is 'Fishing Day' in Seymour,
Texas! By proclamation of the mayor, it has been declared a holiday
for the past 28 years...Except for Christmas, it is the most observed
holiday of the year…."
Unfortunately for West Texas anglers, while the go fishing holiday
endured, the robust Lake Kemp fishery did not. Sedimentation, periodic
droughts and toxic golden alga blooms made the lake much less fish
Seymour's current favorite
fishing hole is Miller Creek Reservoir, impounded in 1974. Only 32
miles from Seymour, the newer lake offers excellent catfish angling,
good crappie or hybrid bass fishing and fair fishing for largemouth
bass. By contrast, the Texas Parks and Wildlife website labels fishing
in Lake Kemp "poor to fair."
These days, the modern version of Go Fishing Day happens on the first
Saturday of May, when there's a First Day Bass Tournament on Miller
Creek Reservoir. But Seymour
no longer shuts down every May 1.