The elusive Iliamna Lake monster is a remote Alaskan mystery.
North America is filled with tales of strange creatures that may or may not exist. Many of them are legends that have been passed down for generations. Most people are familiar with the tales of legendary cryptids like bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. However, there are a few obscure mystery creatures both here and around the world that do not get as much attention.
Such is the case with Alaska's Iliamna Lake monster. This aquatic creature, reported to be a giant freshwater fish, has mystified people for decades now. Skeptics say there are logical explanations for the fish that allegedly grows to lengths over 30 feet long.
However, some locals insist the Lake Iliamna monster is real, and is a species still unknown to science. We are not quite sure what the truth is, but it makes for a fascinating tale.
The location of the legend.
To understand more of the legend, we should probably explore the setting in depth a little more. Many people have never heard of Iliamna Lake unless you are from southwest Alaska. It is the largest freshwater lake in Alaska with a surface area encompassing roughly 1,000 square miles. It is upwards of 77 miles long, and 22 miles wide in places, making it notably larger than many other fisheries found in North America.
The reason many people do not know about this lake is simply because it is hard to reach. It may only be a few hundred miles from Anchorage, but reaching it is difficult without an airplane since there are few roads in the area.
Iliamna Lake is not only the largest lake in Alaska by surface area it is also extremely deep, reaching nearly 1,000 feet in places. There is no doubt that this has helped fuel the speculation about what sort of creatures may be swimming within its depths. In short, this is the perfect setting for a monster legend.
The monster legend.
The first modern reports of something mysterious swimming around Alaska's largest lake started to gain attention in the 1940s. However, Native American legends about mysterious creatures go even further back. According to Cryptiz, the Tlingit people have a legend about a water monster named the Gonakadet, which is described as resembling a whale. The Aleutian people also had their own monster story about a beast called Jig-ik-nak. The interesting thing about this tale is that the creature allegedly killed and ate people travelling via water. The Aleut legend describes it as being like a fish.
In modern times, some of the first sightings of the creature describe something similar. In 1942, bush pilot Babe Alyesworth and Bill Hammersleywere claimed they spotted giant fish, more than 10 feet in length while flying across the lake to Iliamna village. A few years later, in 1945, survey pilot Larry Rost claimed he saw a fish at least 20 feet long swimming in the lake.
The descriptions of the creature usually describe a beast with a large, broad head, and a long, tapered body. The color varies from an aluminum or silver color to dark brown. Most of the eyewitnesses also claim to have seen a clear side-to-side tail motion. Many of the sightings seem to happen around the Kokhanok Bay and Bay Pedro Bay areas. That was where pilot Tim LaPorte saw an alleged 14-foot fish in 1977.
There are also numerous tales of local anglers trying and failing to catch the beast. In one tale, a fisherman claimed his float plane was dragged around the lake before the mystery fish snapped stainless steel cables and completely straightened a tuna hook. Yet another tale had an angler tying a large, homemade hook to a stump with steel cables. The mystery fish allegedly pulled the stump off the bank and dragged it across the lake against the wind.
The search for the fish, and possible explanations.
Because of the remote location of this lake, it has not harbored as many expeditions to seek out the truth as some place more accessible like Loch Ness. However, there have been an intrepid few who have tried to seek out the truth. To try and spur interest and more expeditions after the beast, the Anchorage Daily News offered a $100,000 bounty for a short time. It went unclaimed. Right now, the reigning theory on the creature's explanation is that it is likely a white sturgeon. Jeremy Wade or River Monsters fame tried fishing for the beast but came up empty-handed, but he agrees with that hypothesis.
It makes the most sense since the fish can reach lengths approaching 20 feet and can weigh nearly 1,500 pounds. The only problem with this theory is that white sturgeon have never been recorded that far north into Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News reports some green sturgeon were netted in the lake back in the mid-1990s. However, this species only grows to about seven feet and 300 pounds. It could account for some of the sightings, but not all of them.
Lake Iliamna does connect to the ocean via the Kvichak River, which empties into Bristol Bay and saltwater. This has fueled speculation on other explanations. In 2012, a dying Pacific sleeper shark was filmed in King Cove Lagoon. Many mistakenly attributed this as being a sleeper shark found in Lake Iliamna. However, this sighting was nowhere near the lake. While this species can reach lengths over 20 feet, the sleeper shark is a deep water species and it seems unlikely one would follow the river into freshwater.
Other possible explanations include beluga whales, which sometimes follow migrating salmon up the river far from the ocean to the edge of the lake. There is also a populating of harbor seals living in Lake Iliamna. In fact, it is the largest population of freshwater seals on Earth. While the seals do not grow to the great lengths claimed by eyewitnesses, mistaken identity should probably still be considered. Because it is not often one sees seals in freshwater.
The legend lives on.
While there are many possible logical explanations for the Iliamna Lake monster, until someone proves one of them, the legend will continue to live. Perhaps an angler will land a 20-foot white sturgeon in there one day proving it was mistaken identity all along. Perhaps there are no sturgeon there and the tales of snapped wire leaders and bent saltwater hooks are just that. A fisherman's tall tale. We may never know for sure.
One thing is for certain. Real or not, it is a fun story. A body of water the size of Iliamna is bound to hold all sorts of secrets and it is unlikely she will give them up anytime soon. For now, the legend lives on and remains a fun tale for Alaskans to pass on to future generations.
Products featured on Wide Open Spaces are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.