If you think Scotland has a lock on lake monsters you might be surprised to find Montana has its own version of “Nessie” in Flathead Lake. The monster was first spotted in 1889 by passengers of the lake steamer us Grant who first thought it to be an approaching boat. A passenger toting a rifle fired at it. He missed but did scare it (whatever it was) away.
Since then scores of people have viewed the creature. Sightings were documented in the early 1900s, 1912, 1919, 1922-23, 1934, 1937, 1939 and regularly in every decade until today.
One of the more notable accounts came from a Polson couple and their four children on July 10, 1949. They reported a big fish near the Narrows. The fish appeared about 150 feet from them and had about a six-foot length of its back visible. For over 30 seconds they watched it as it swam southeasterly leaving a wake 6” to 8” high as it slowly sank beneath the surface. They believed it to be a 10 to 12-foot long sturgeon. The man later became a chairman of the Montana State Fish and Game Commission.
1993 holds the record for the most sightings—nine in all. On July 13, near Woods Bay, a Seattle bank officer, and a district sales manager actually managed to get some video footage of the creature. The video shows a dark shape on the surface. The sales manager swears he saw the eye’s of the monster before they were able to get the tape rolling. He described it as the head of a sturgeon, but the body of a large eel at least 12 feet long. On July 29 in the early afternoon, a vacationing Illinois policeman, his wife, and three children saw “Nessie” surface about 50 yards from their boat in calm waters near Wild Horse Island. The monster appeared to be following a school of bait-sized fish. The policeman described the creature as shiny with shiny humps, about 15 to 20 feet in length, and with a bowling ball-sized head. He claimed it looked like two seals swimming.
There seems to be no consistency to where or when “Nessie” will show. The creature has appeared at all times of the year, in all parts of the lake. Sightings of the creature have been reported by all manner of people—teachers, professionals, farmers, ranchers, military officers, law enforcement officers, business people, mill workers, and tourists of all ages.
There was a time when folks thought the mystery was solved. On May 28, 1955, the late C. Leslie Griffith claimed he snagged a big sturgeon near Dayton on the western side of the lake. He finally managed to gaff it several miles down lake near Big Arm State Park, after fighting it for nearly five hours. Not everyone believed his story. Some believe the 7-1/2 foot, 181 lb. white sturgeon was trucked in from somewhere else. The giant fish can be seen in the Polson Flathead Historical Museum today. Griffith did swear in court under oath that the fish was caught in Flathead Lake. A dispute later arose between Griffith and Big Fish Unlimited Inc. as to ownership of the fish and distribution of money from showing it. The case went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court. BFU retained ownership but had to give Griffith a cut of the proceeds.