Giant Mystery Fish of the Yukon
The Yukon Territory is full of wild mysteries. Legendary tales of sea monsters aren’t unique to the region but there is one key difference – I have personally encountered an unexplainable terror of the deep. If you would like to hear my story of the giant mystery fish of the Yukon, keep reading. If you DARE!
A little background
Have you ever heard of the Lake Iliamna Monster? The original Tliglit inhabitants of the Lake Iliamna region told a story of a giant sea monster called the Gonakadet. Aleuts told a similar tale of a feared sea monster living in Lake Iliamna called the Jig-ik-nak. These creatures were more than 20-feet long and would attack boats with their blunt heads. Men that fell into the freezing waters of Lake Iliamna seldom lived to tell their story.
Lake Iliamna is the largest lake in Alaska and almost 1,000 feet deep. All sorts of hidden terrors may well reside within its waters but sightings of the Lake Iliamna monster continue to this day. Some speculate it’s a hideous demon spawned from fissures in the lake bottom that lead directly to hell itself. Actually, I made that up but there are some theories pertaining to the creature’s identity.
Many experts believe that the mysterious sea monster of Lake Iliamna is actually a white sturgeon. Others say it’s a beluga whale. Some swear they saw something more akin to the Loch Ness Monster.
In 1967, one brave man did exactly what I would have done and tried catching the Lake Iliamna monster with hook and line. This modern-day hero baited raw and bloody caribou meat onto giant tuna hooks tied it onto heavy steel cable. Then he attached the cable to the struts of his floatplane and sat back on one of the pontoons drifting in an area where the mightly Leviathan had been spotted by a friend.
Suddenly, the plane jerked forward causing the man to fall into the lake. As the plane was being dragged away, the unlucky angler barely managed to swim to shore. He tracked the plane for miles, hiking along the shore as the mysterious monster towed it around the lake. After some time, the floatplane stopped moving and he was able to swim out to recover it. The giant nine-inch long tuna hooks had been completely straightened out.
Lesson: trying to catch a sea monster is a bad idea.
My Yukon giant fish encounter
About 12 years ago, strange things started happening on the Tagish Bridge. Tagish locals (and me) like to fish for lake trout on the bridge because very big fish are often caught. I’ve landed fish topping 30-pounds. That’s a big fish but catching 30-pound trout doesn’t require heavy gear. I caught my fish on a 7-foot rod with 12-pound test line. You see, big freshwater fish in the cold waters of the north just don’t have the energy to swim fast and put up a hard fight.
This story started around early June. An angler on the Tagish Bridge would hook into a fish but it didn’t fight like a trout. In fact, it didn’t even seem like the fish knew it was hooked at all. It never surfaced, sped up, or slowed down. No amount of pressure on the fishing red could turn the fish. The line just kept emptying from the spool on the reel until it ran out. Then the fish was gone.
I saw this happen to other anglers at least a dozen times. It happened to me twice before I had what seemed like a great idea. I brought a thick halibut fishing rig from home and baited it with a whitefish. The reel was outfitted with 100-pound test line and thick steel treble hook. There was no way the fish could get away.
A few hours later the rod started to twitch. Then the bait clicker started to sound and I knew the fish was mine. There was no response from the unseen creature when I set the hook. I held onto the rod with all of my strength as my fellow fishermen cheered me on. Still, no matter how much I tried, I could not gain ground on that terrible monster. It felt like I was tethered to a nuclear submarine. Twenty minutes later, my line ran out and the creature was gone.
What was it?
There were a few more similar encounters at Tagish Bridge that summer but I haven’t heard of any since then. What was the mystery sea monster? Was it a sturgeon? Was it the fabled Gonakadet? Sadly, I will never know. Worse, I will never know what it tastes like.