Are there monsters in Lake Tahoe?
Every year, a few sightings of “Tahoe Tessie” are logged with local authorities. Some people claim to have seen huge, serpentine critters moving along the lake’s surface, while others say they’ve witnessed massive fish-like shapes cruising the shallows.
And the stories have been coming in for years – the Washoe and Paiute Indians were said to have told white settlers in the 1800’s that the lake was inhabited by fantastic, ferocious beasts. In the 1970’s French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau was supposedly so shocked by something he saw while probing Tahoe’s depths in a mini sub that he refused to speak publicly about it.
Indeed, the lake is 22 miles long, 12 miles wide and over 1,600 feet deep, so it would seem to be the ideal haunt for some strange aquatic beast. Furthermore, Tahoe was once part of an ancient, immense body of water — Lake Lahontan — which also covered what is now Pyramid Lake. The gigantic lake had all kinds of strange and unusual critters in it and some folks think that something from the prehistoric days may have survived.
As far as the stories the original Tahoe Basin residents told to the settlers who were invading their little slice of paradise go, they were probably made up in hopes to scare people away. How about the whole Jacques Cousteau thing? Well, it apparently is all a hoax, as I’ve never been able to find anybody (or anything on the web) that can confirm he ever set foot near Lake Tahoe.
While I’m not so sure there are unidentifiable monsters in Tahoe but I am certain the lake harbors some monster mackinaw. The lake-record 37-pound, 4-ounce mack was taken back in 1974, and with the abundant supply of feed — kokanee salmon, 12- to 24-inch mackinaw, suckers, whitefish, mysis shrimp, tui chubs and Lahontan redsides — a mackinaw could grow very large in Tahoe.
To find further proof that Tahoe is home to some super-sized macks, all one has to do is chat with a charter boat skipper or longtime angler. Every last one of them has had at least one run-in with something big — really big.
Joby Cefalu of Mile High Charters in South Lake Tahoe is no exception. A native of the area, he’s logged thousands of hours on the big lake and has encountered his share of beasts. Several summers ago, a client of his hooked into a mackinaw while jigging near Cave Rock on the Nevada side of the lake. When the fish first came into view 40 feet below the boat, Cefalu couldn’t believe his eyes. A huge, dark shape was trailing the hooked trout.
“The first thing that popped into my head was…what the heck is a scuba diver doing way out here,” he said. “Then it quickly donned on me that it wasn’t a diver but a massive mackinaw tying to eat the one we had on.”
The client continued to reel and the giant mack kept coming. Cefalu eventually netted the fish and, after the hooked mackinaw was hoisted aboard, the brontosaurus-sized trout made a leisurely pass along the transom of the boat and then disappeared into the abyss. Now, here’s the interesting part: the fish that Cefalu had just scooped weighed 14 pounds!
Mike Nielsen of Tahoe Topliners is another lifelong resident of Tahoe who’s had a few run-ins with jumbo-sized macks as well.
“There are two incidents that really stand out,” he said. “The first one was on Mothers Day of 1998. I was out fishing with my dad and I was racing across the lake. It was a flat calm day and I was really watching out for floating debris as I always do in the spring. My dad starts yelling for me to watch out for a log so I throttle back and get close enough to see that this ‘log’ is actually a great big mack that looks like it’s about 5 feet long. It was just sitting there on the surface for a moment and we got a really good look at it before it took off.”
A couple years later, Nielson was in 170 feet of water and just beginning to set his lines when his clients suddenly all jumped up in unison and started pointing to what they thought was a person swimming out behind the boat.
“I take a look and see a huge dorsal fin and think oh, my God, that’s a fish,” he said. “It was a good 4 ½ feet long and probably well over 40 pounds.”
Macks can live up to 50 years and, under the right conditions, are able to reach incredible sizes. The all-time record mackinaw trout weighed 126 pounds and was taken in Lake Athabasca around 1930 in a commercial net. I’ve seen an old black-and-white photograph of that fish and it could have easily swallowed a beach ball — not to mention a few of its 14-pound cousins.
Are there monsters in Tahoe? Yes, though just maybe not the sea monster variety…