Monday, September 12, 2011

Lake Monsters? Champ? Two fascinating accounts.

Whitehall, New York
43 33.26 N 073 24.14 W

A while back I wrote about birds in Porter Bay.  Readers Pam and Dave posted the following delightful comment to that post.

During my few years on Lake Champlain, I noticed an interesting phenomenom. On the Sacandaga and other bodies of water, waterfowl go out onto the water at night to escape predators. On Lake Champlain, waterfowl get off the lake at night to escape a predator- Champ.
One evening, my ex-wife and I were sitting at our mooring at Westport. It was dusk and all the waterfowl that sit on the floating breakwater flew off for land. When it was almost completely dark, we saw a mother Merganser and one chick come swimming by the boat and off into the gloom. Suddenly, following it was a torpedo like wake. There was a big splash, and then silence, and then the sound of the baby Merganser peeping for its mother. Another splash, and then silence.
It made me a believer in Champ. That, and actually hearing him call while sleeping on the boat one night, a very low pitched whale-like call.
Don't go swimming at night, Dick! 

Pam and Dave's comment made me recall a somewhat similar account from the year 1609.  Here is an excerpt from Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, by Samuel de Champlain.

The next day we entered the lake, [342] which is of great extent, say eighty or a hundred leagues long, where I saw four fine islands, ten, twelve, and fifteen leagues long, which were formerly inhabited by the savages, like the River of the Iroquois; but they have been abandoned since the wars of the savages with one another prevail. There are also many rivers falling into the lake, bordered by many fine trees of the same kinds as those we have in France, with many vines finer than any I have seen in any other place; also many chestnut-trees on the border of this lake, which I had not seen before.
There is also a great abundance of fish, of many varieties: among others, one called by the savages of the country _Chaousarou_ [343] which varies in length, the largest being, as the people told me, eight or ten feet long. I saw some five feet long, which were as large as my thigh; the head being as big as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp and dangerous teeth. Its body is, in shape, much like that of a pike; but it is armed with scales so strong that a poniard could not pierce them. Its color is silver-gray. The extremity of its snout is like that of a swine. This fish makes war upon all others in the lakes and rivers. It also possesses remarkable dexterity, as these people informed me, which is exhibited in the following manner. When it wants to capture birds, it swims in among the rushes, or reeds, which are found on the banks of the lake in several places, where it puts its snout out of water and keeps perfectly still: so that, when the birds come and light on its snout, supposing it to be only the stump of a tree, it adroitly closes it, which it had kept ajar, and pulls the birds by the feet down under water. The savages gave me the head of one of them, of which they make great account, saying that, when they have the headache, they bleed themselves with the teeth of this fish on the spot where they suffer pain, when it suddenly passes away.

Don't those two accounts sound similar?  From what I've read, experts have no idea what species of fish Champlain describes.  Nothing in the fossil record seems to fit.   Lake monsters indeed.    Maybe so!  Might there be some left?  Could these monsters have given rise to the legend of Champ?  

My only experience with Champ happened around 1980.  I invited my sisters boyfriend to sail with me on the lake.  We just left land when he cried out, "Look!  There's Champ!"   I looked and saw nothing.  "Where," I demanded.  "Right there," he pointed, "See his neck and head coming out of the water."  I looked where he pointed.  It was a cormorant and it was only 20 feet away.  This young man had never been on a boat before and thus had no feeling for judging distance and size on the water.



  1. Hi Dick,

    I think de Champlain was describing a sturgeon. It's quite possible that a sturgeon was the beast than ate the two mergansers, or it may have been Champ. He's (they're) rumored to live at the base of the cliffs just north of Westport across from Porter Bay. What convinced me was hearing his whale-like call, loud enough to wake me and an on board guest. But like Nessie, I guess we'll never know for sure until a body is found.

    I hope you get yourself on the Hudson soon. I heard that the federal lock in Troy is still closed.

  2. My understanding is that sturgeon are bottom feeders. They never come into the shallows and if so, then birds aren't part of their diets.

    Wikipedia says:

    They [sturgeon] are primarily benthic feeders. With their projecting wedge-shaped snout they stir up the soft bottom, and use the barbels to detect shells, crustaceans and small fish, on which they feed. Having no teeth, they are unable to seize prey, though larger specimens can swallow very large prey items, including whole salmon.

  3. Could possibly have been a Gar?

  4. Most likely a muskie. They get big and are nasty. Lots of teeth and they eat everything including birds. Or perhaps a big pike. Ken


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