Lake Tahoe Tessie


By: J.D. Richey

Thursday, June 1, 2006 11:15 PM PDT

Lake Tahoe is cool.

In the summer, the weather's always great up there, the scenery is fabulous and the lake hosts an excellent cold water fishery. That much we know for sure. It's the unknown, however, that really fires me up about fishing the lake.

If you talk to anybody who's spent some time on Lake Tahoe, you'll hear the stories - tales of monstrous creatures that lurk in the depths. There are stories of encounters with strange, unidentified beasts. In fact, you may have already heard of "Tahoe Tessie" - the dinosaur like critter that is rumored to live in the lake.

Well, I think the Tessie deal is more of a product of the Lake Tahoe area Chamber of Commerce's marketing director than anything else, but there have been enough accounts of strange things in the lake that make me think that there could be something out there.

Every charter boat skipper on Tahoe has had at least one run-in with something big - really big. I've talked to a captain who had a 15-pound mackinaw trout hooked, only to have something gigantic grab it on the way in. When they eventually got the mack, it had huge teeth marks in it.

Imagine how big something would have to be to try to make a snack out of a 35-inch fish! Another skipper I talked to was reeling in a small fish when some leviathan grabbed it and immediately dove to the bottom of the lake - 600 feet down. He never saw it, never even got it close.

I've also heard the rumors of giant fish remains washing up on the shore during winter storms; stories of fish-like creatures as big as eight feet long jumping, and tales of huge shapes seen swimming around pier pilings late in the evening.

Who knows how many of these stories are true but with a lake as big and deep as Tahoe (more than 1,600 feet), the mind reels at the possibilities.

Furthermore, consider that 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. Could something from the prehistoric days survived in Tahoe?

Perhaps. After all, a fish living in the depths of the lake (say below 500 feet) would be able to escape detection from anglers, who rarely drop their gear below 300 feet. Subs and test nets have been deployed in the lake over the years to unlock its mysteries, but there's a lot of water out there and it would be impossible to see all there is to see.

Another possibility is that some sort of toothy introduced species like gar or musky lives out in the big lake, but I don't really buy into that one too much.

My personal hypothesis is that there are some monster-sized mackinaw out there. 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 beachball - not to mention one of its 15-pound cousins. The lake-record mack at Tahoe is a 37-pound, 4-ounce fish that was taken back in 1974 and fish up towards 30 pounds show from time to time.

With the abundant supply of feed - primarily kokanee salmon, small 12- to 18-inch mackinaw, suckers and several other baitfish - a mackinaw could grow very large in Tahoe.

It's hard to say, but I do know that pondering the denizens of the deep in Tahoe makes for good sport - and definitely gives you something to do between bites. And the next bite you get may just be...