Iliamna Lake Monster

Iliamna Lake Monster
A White sturgeon, believed by biologists to be the source for the monster
Grouping Cryptid
Sub grouping Lake monster
Other name(s) Jig-ik-nak, Gonakadet
Country United States
Region Alaska
Habitat Water

The Iliamna Lake Monster, or commonly referred to by locals as Illie, is a cryptid whose legend has haunted the Alaskan fishing village of Iliamna. The native’s tales describe a large beast that roams the waters. The monster has many reported sightings along with a few reported causes of death under its belt. Over the years, it has gained enough attention to lure the Animal Planet show “River Monsters” in attempt to find out what may lie beneath the waters. The monster is a reported 10–30 feet in length with a square-like head that is used to place blunt force unto things such as small boats. Although there is no physical evidence to conclude the monster's existence, many reports beg to differ.


A picture of rocks on a lakeshore
Iliamna Lake, the monster's origin and namesake

Iliamna Lake is a large natural lake located in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Alaska. At approximately 1,012.5 sq mi (2,622 km2; 648,000 acres) in total surface area, it is the largest lake in Alaska, and one of the largest lakes in the country.[1][2] The lake is 77 miles (124 km) at its longest, and has a maximum width of approximately 22 miles (35 km). Its deepest point is 988 feet (301 m), with an average depth of 144 feet (44 m). Iliamna is located about 50 feet (15 m) above sea level.[2][3] Located just south of Lake Clark National Park, the lake is the main drainage feature for the Kvichak River system. The Newhalen, Pile, Iliamna, and Copper rivers all flow into the lake, combining for an estimated 8,980 to 12,030 cubic feet (254 to 341 m3) of water flowing into the lake per second.[4] Iliamna is connected to Bristol Bay and Kvichak Bay by the Kvichak River. The river runs for 62 miles (100 km) from the lake to the bays, breaking into several shallow interconnected streams along its course.[5][6]

Like most of Alaska, due to its remote location, access to Iliamna Lake is restricted almost exclusively to the use of airplanes. Travel by floatplanes is the most common, as they can land directly onto the lake. No roads currently connect communities on the lake to the surrounding areas. However, during summer months, it is possible to travel up the Kvichak River using small boats.[7] The region surrounding the lake is very sparsely populated, with subsidence fishing and hunting being the main economy of the area. However, the lake and surrounding rivers have been inhabited for centuries, with the earliest reports of settlement in the region coming from Russian fur traders in the 1790s. The lake itself was claimed by the Dena'ina people as their own territory until contact with the Russians.[7][8]

History and sightings

The earliest reports of a monster living in the lake came from the native Tlingit people, who tell stories of a creature referred to as the "Gonakadet". It was described as a large, water-dwelling animal with a head and tail similar to that of a wolf, and a body like an orca. The Gonakadet was depicted as a "fish god", and was recorded in pictographs along the Alaskan and British Columbian coasts.[9] Other early reports of the monster came from the native Aleut people, who tell stories of creatures they call the "Jig-ik-nak". The fish-like monsters were reported to travel in groups and attack canoes and kill warriors. The creatures were feared and not hunted by the Aleut.[10][11] This sparked interest in others as pilots and fishermen began to wonder what the creatures were. Many more sightings were reported as people began to fly low over the lake for the purpose of seeing these monster fish. Consistent reports of large, dull, aluminum-colored fish were coming in by the late 50’s. Soon, enough attention was brought to the subject that in 1979 the Anchorage Daily News offered a sum of $100,000 to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence proving the fish’s existence.[12] The evidence is yet to be provided, as sightings have slowed in recent years.

1942: Babe Alyesworth and Bill Hammersley reported seeing a large, dull, aluminum-colored fish from their plane. This encouraged others to come forth with sightings and more information.

1963: Biologist reported seeing a 25–30 foot fish from overhead; it did not come up for air.

1967: Alaska missionary Chuck Crapuchettes has seen the monster twice. Once, he was flying over in a float plane and he saw a large animal in the water. He got on the radio and tried to call some other people around and try to see and verify it, but nobody got there in time.

One of his friends went trawling for it. He took a 5/16 stainless steel cable, put #2 tuna hooks on it, baited them with caribou and tied it off on the struts of his floatplane.

He was drifting and sitting out on the floats. All of a sudden the plane gave a big jerk and knocked him off the floats. The plane was towed off and he barely made it to shore. He walked for miles while the plane was towed around the lake.

When he finally recovered his airplane, three of the cables were gone. The hooks on the ones that remained were straightened out and these hooks were eight or nine inches long! There have been Beluga whales that have gone up the Kvichak River into the lake and it was possible that's what it was.[13]

1977: A pilot, while flying over Pedro Bay, spots a 12–14 foot fish on the surface as it dove down, revealing vertical tail.

1987: Resident Verna Kolyaha reported seeing a large black fish with white stripe down its fin.

1988: Several locals report the same sighting from water and land, a large black fish with a fin swimming near the surface.

These are just a few of the sightings that have occurred since the outbreak in the 40’s and 50’s. Most of the sightings in recent times take place near Pedro Bay and the fishing village of Iliamna, like the events of 1977 and 1988. With the lack of recent sightings, many have begun to doubt the monster's existence although TV networks such as the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have managed to feature the monster on episodes of popular series.

Possible Explanations

Many theories have been proposed to explain what might lie beneath the waters of Lake Iliamna. Ogopogo is a cryptid very similar to that of the Iliamna Lake Monster which supposedly resides in the waters of Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. Some disagree with this theory based upon reports of what the monster looks like due to Ogopogo’s serpent-like features. Another theory that has gained attention due to the increasingly popular Animal Planet show “River Monsters” biologist Jeremy Wade determined that the monster may be no monster at all, but a white sturgeon which is indigenous to areas of Alaska.[14] The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission says, “White sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America and can weigh over 1,500 pounds, be 20 feet in length, and live for over 100 years.”[15]

The sturgeon, being a bottom dwelling fish, would explain why sightings are rare. Additionally, catching them is considered a tough sport by many fishermen. Both of these ideas validate the theory. Although the white sturgeon is found in Alaska and much of the Pacific Northwest, there is no evidence of the white sturgeon residing in Lake Iliamna. Some see this as disproving Jeremy Wade’s theory although based on eyewitnesses description of a 20-foot, aluminum colored fish seem to fit perfectly.

Many people have reported their propellers are damaged by what look like teeth marks but might actually be caused by a boat's running over the back of a sturgeon at the surface because the backs have teeth-like armor plating which can easily make a propeller appear as if it has been chewed or attacked. There have also been stories of people being knocked out of their boats as it is rammed and their never surfacing. This can be attributed to a sturgeon's tendency to jump out of the water, accidentally hitting small boats in the process and dying as a result of the harsh freezing conditions in the lake itself. Sturgeon are bottom feeders and dwell at the bottom of lakes, rivers and oceans. Lake lliamna has a maximum depth of 988 feet, which could easily explain why they are never seen by fishermen (when they rarely are, people assume them to be lake monsters).



  1. Alaska Planning Group (1974), p. 32
  2. 1 2 Mathisen et al. (2002), pp. 1060-1065
  3. Martin and Katz (1912), p. 13
  4. Alaska Planning Group (1974), pp. 31-32
  5. Wade (2011), p. 173
  6. Palmer (1993), pp. 106-107
  7. 1 2 Wade (2011), pp. 169-170
  8. Cook and Rice (1989), pp. 553-554
  9. Barrett (1954), p. 25
  10. Newton (2009), pp. 81-82
  11. Bille (2001), p. 72
  12. "Monster Lurks beneath the Waters of Lake Iliamna". Anchorage Daily News. 14 April 1989.
  13. A Story of Iliamna's Monster Fish
  14. Campbell, Mike. "Animal planet's 'River Monsters' Visits Iliamna Lake". Anchorage Daily News.
  15. "White Sturgeon". Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Retrieved 10 April 2012.


Books and publications
  • Alaska Planning Group (1974). Proposed Lake Clark National Park, Alaska: final environmental statement. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. OCLC 1562748. 
  • Cook, Eung-Do; Rice, Keren Dichter (1989). Athapaskan Linguistics: Current Perspectives on a Language Family. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter & Co. ISBN 3-11-011166-7. 
  • Martin, George Curtis; Katz, Frank James (1912). "A Geological Reconnaissance of the Iliamna Region, Alaska". United States Geological Survey Bulletin. United States Department of the Interior. 485 (1): 9–15. OCLC 4250815. 
  • Newton, Michael (2009). Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC. ISBN 978-0-313-35906-4. 
  • Palmer, Tim (1993). Wild and Scenic Rivers of America. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-145-7. 
  • Wade, Jeremy (2011). River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones that Didn't Get Away. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81954-4. 
Newspaper and journal articles
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