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Going Fishing for Lake Monsters

Lake monster reports come from all corners of the globe, encompassing alleged creatures of all shapes and sizes dwelling within mysterious bodies of water that have eluded any easy classification. Of course there have been countless expeditions launched in search of such aquatic beasts, and indeed a variety of attempt made to actually catch them. These have run the gamut from nets, to cages, to the use of high explosives, but perhaps the most interesting are the tales of people who have gone about this monster hunting the old fashioned way, by throwing out a baited hook and waiting to see what strikes. If you have ever wondered what happens when someone goes out fishing for a mystery lake monster (and honestly, who hasn’t?), then wonder no further. Here are a range of accounts of people who have gone out and thrown a line in for some of the most enigmatic cryptids on the planet.

Some of the most insane attempts to catch a lake monster on hook and line were at Alaska’s Lake Iliamna, where there have long been stories of some sort of large, hulking aquatic organism lurking in the depths. Lake Iliamna is an enormous lake, the largest body of freshwater in the U.S. state of Alaska, and the third largest in the entire country, being around 80 miles long, having over 1,000 square miles of surface area, and average depths of around around 300 feet and some areas which plunge down to over 1,000 feet into inky darkness, making it more like an inland sea than a lake. Of course with such a vast area, there have inevitably long been stories of a monster in the lake, with accounts from the native Aleut people going back since time unremembered and numerous reports of large, fish-like shapes 30 feet long and up in the water dating from when the earliest settlers arrived. In the 1940s, the legend of the Iliamna Lake monsters really took off when aircraft flying over the lake made many sightings of the creatures cruising through the deep waters.

Lake Iliamna

The most famous sighting was made by bush pilot Babe Alsworth and fisherman Bill Hammersley in September of 1942, as they flew over the lake on their way to the village of Iliamna in a ferry plane. The two spotted large specks in water estimated to be around 40 feet deep, and flew over for another look, making the discovery that they were in fact huge fish of some sort that were a “dull aluminum” in color, with tapered bodies, wide heads, and vertical tails that swished from side to side. The enormous fish were described as being around 30 feet in length and disappeared under the water as the plane came in ever lower, perhaps disturbed by the noise. The two witnesses decided that these were some strange form of giant fish, as their tails had been vertically aligned, unlike the horizontal configuration of whales or other marine mammals, plus the fact that they were not once seen to surface for air.

Hammersley went on to publish information on what he had seen, and others were soon coming in with their own reports from the remote reaches of the lake, such as U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Pilot Larry Rost, who in 1945 saw a huge fish over 20 feet long that was a dull grey in color. Reports kept coming in over the years as more planes flew over the vast expanse of isolated water, and some people got it into their minds to actually try and catch whatever it was haunting these waters.

There have been several attempts to actually catch the Iiamna monster on hook and line. In cryptozoologist Loren Coleman’s book Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, he goes over two such attempts. One was in the fall of 1959, when oil tycoon, adventurer and monster hunter Tom Slick offered a $1,000 reward for the capture of one of the mystery monsters, and went about personally planting thick cables with baited hooks attached to barrels for buoys placed in the same spot that the creatures had been seen by Alsworth and Hammersley, but they never did manage to catch anything. In the meanwhile, he hired Alsworth himself to fly him over the lake in search for the elusive beasts, but they were not able to see any sign of them, and indeed Alsworth would not make another sighting despite making over 100 flights over the same area of the lake, his eye ever on the lookout for the enigmatic creatures.

Earlier that same year there was also an attempt outlined in the January 1959 issue of Sports Afield, in which there is a personal account given by a Gil Paust, who also tried to capture the monster by hook and line. Paust had Hammersley take him to the location of his sighting, along with two others, Slim Beck and John Walatka, aboard a Bushmaster sea plane. The group docked at the spot aboard their plane and baited a massive, quarter inch thick hook fashioned an iron rod with a large chunk of moose meat, atop hundreds of feet of sturdy steel cable and tossing it all out into the water attached to a 55-gallon oil drum bobber. According to their account, they actually managed to catch something quite powerful and massive, but they never got it to the surface and it allegedly snapped the stainless steel aircraft cable before they were able to bring it up.

The Iliamna Lake mystery fish have been sighted numerous times in the ensuing years, with many other expeditions made to try and locate them, but there have been no other real attempts to catch it on hook and line. I have covered the mystery of the Iliamna Lake monsters here at Mysterious Universe before, and it seems like a genuine creature of some sort could be prowling about these deep, cold waters. One wonders just what it was that Paust and company hooked into that day.

A similarly dramatic attempt was made to fish for a monster said to lurk within Bear Lake, Utah, where a massive, alligator-like creature has long been said to terrorize these waters, both by natives and settlers alike. When a sighting was made by wagon train captain William Budge in 1874, early Mormon leader Brigham Young believed it and concocted a scheme to catch it. In this case, a 300-foot length of thick rope and steel cable was firmly anchored to the shore, which was then topped with a huge barbed hook that was baited with a slab of mutton flank. The line was then suspended in the water with an oil drum buoy and left there. It is unclear just how much luck the attempt actually had, although it was claimed at the time that something persistently stripped the bait from the hook multiple times. What sort of creature in Bear Lake would be able to pick off a huge chunk of mutton off of a hook big enough to catch a great white shark? It is unknown.

Bear Lake

Even more impressive was an attempt to catch the legendary monster of Lake Kussharo, located within Akan National Park in eastern Hokkaido, in northern Japan. This caldera lake has been allegedly the haunt of an enormous monster affectionately called Kusshie, which is typically described as being 30 to 60 feet in length and having dark, leathery skin and head reminiscent of that of a horse. The creature is rather well-known for being able to swim extremely fast, at around the same speed as a motorboat, and early settlers and the indigenous Ainu people claimed that the beast was known to snatch deer and other animals from the shore.

Although there have been many sightings and expeditions to the lake to try and find some evidence of the Lake Kussharo creature, using divers, sonar, submarines, motion activated cameras, and nets, the boldest and most far out of these was attempted by a fisherman who set out on his small rowboat with the aim of catching it with rod and reel. The unidentified angler allegedly headed out on his modest boat armed with a length of cable, a shark hook, and a tuna head for bait, as curious onlookers gathered at the shore to gawk at the spectacle. It is unclear if the fisherman really thought he would catch anything or not, but what is certain is that he soon was most certainly wishing for a bigger boat, as something purportedly took the line with great force and proceeded to drag the boat around in circles for a time in a surge of water before completely snapping the cable and getting away. Witnesses say that the boat was dragged around like a toy, and it is unknown just what sort of creature the man had hooked into.

Lake Kussharo

Certainly the most famous lake monster of all is the Loch Ness Monster, of Scotland’s Loch Ness, and you may be wondering by this point if anyone has ever thrown in a line hoping to catch the actual Nessie, the answer to which is yes. Yes they have. The earliest such attempt was made in 1933, and described in the May 30th, 1933 edition of the Inverness Courier thus:

An attempt to catch the monster was made at Foyers. A sealed barrel to which was attached 60 yards of strong wire with strong hooks baited with dogfish & skate was put out on the loch. The attempt was unsuccessful.

After this there were various attempts to catch the monster with nets, underwater cages, and even a 60ft by 20ft tube made of fiberglass and plastic baited wish fish constructed by the Vladivar Vodka company in 1984, as perhaps more of a publicity stunt than anything else, but none other so bold as to throw out a line, that is until the new millennium, when celebrity fisherman Jeremy Wade, of the hit Animal Planet show River Monsters, set his sights on the Loch. In 2013, Wade set out to film a show chronicling his efforts to catch Nessie for the 2-hour season 5 finale of his popular show, called Legend of Loch Ness.

In the episode, Wade spends some amount of time tracking down various eyewitness accounts of the Loch Ness Monster, complete with reproductions of some of the cases, as well as conducting interviews with researchers into the phenomenon such as well-known Nessie hunter Adrian Shine. Wade is very stubborn about even remotely considering any reports featuring a long neck, instead totally convinced that the culprit is some sort of large fish, perhaps something like a wayward Greenland shark; a theory which is encouraged by some reports he uncovers of witnesses seeing large, solid masses under the water. Wade goes all out, even going so far as to go for a swim in the loch, noticing how quickly the water goes from clear near shore to the muddy murk of the peat filled deeper waters.

Although Wade expresses doubts that the loch has a large enough fish population to sustain a creature as large as the purported Loch Ness Monster, he nevertheless sets about fishing for it in the murky waters, interestingly with just a sturdy rod and reel. No doubt viewers at home were glued to their sets when this aired, as Wade very often manages to hook into something rather interesting in his quests for mysterious river monsters. Alas, he did catch something, but it turned out to be just a rather large European freshwater eel, and he continued to catch these multiple times, but in the end there was no sign of Nessie, and they went away empty handed. The only thing strange about it was that no other type of fish was caught except those eels.

Jeremy Wade at Loch Ness

After moving on to Norway in the hopes of landing a Greenland shark, which can get up to 21 feet long and over 2,000 pounds in weight, Wade finally catches one but it is too large to even get into the boat, and he ends up concluding that the Loch Ness Monster could have its origins in something like the Greenland Shark making its way into the loch or into the legends of the area. The episode leaves few real answers to the Loch Ness mystery, and one wonders what Wade and crew could have possibly turned up if they had spent more time out on the loch and had devoted more resources to their search.

It certainly seems that with the sizes and often the ferocity and strength reported for lake monsters, throwing in a line to try to catch one may not seem like the most sensible way to go about trying to bring one in, and the reports of actually hooking into one only to have it easily break high tensile steel cable seems to back this up. It seems almost preposterous to even try this, yet there is some incredible allure to attempting it. As ridiculous as catching something like Nessie on a rod and reel sounds, damn if it doesn’t sound like an interesting proposition nevertheless. For all of the nets and sonar traps and other assorted ways of trying to catch lake monsters, as improbable as it is I just keep finding myself hoping that the one to successfully do it is some fisherman out for an afternoon of casting his line in.