When Idaho voters created the Fish and Game Commission on November 8, 1938, to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage ALL of Idaho’s wildlife...we aren’t sure if they had monsters in mind!
No one is certain when the first sighting of the sea monster eventually known as “Sharlie” occurred at Payette Lake, some say 1917 others, 1920. However, McCall’s aquatic beast became a national, then international story in August of 1944. That summer, several people reported seeing the serpent-like creature writhing off shore and displaying a series of three humps.
The first report was from a group of six people at Lakeview Camp on July 2nd. It was described by the spectators as “moving through the water in an undulating fashion”. According to their account, the creature’s head was raised in the air much like the periscope of a submarine and it had a tail fin that was similar to the rudder of an airplane.
Coincidentally, one of those first six witnesses was Boise attorney Homer Martin, the lawyer who drafted the 1938 initiative that created the Idaho Fish & Game Commission. But as the summer wore on, several more sightings were reported by local residents, vacationing soldiers and workers at the area lumber mill.
This landed tiny McCall, Idaho in TIME magazine’s August 21, 1944 issue. The cover shows a scowling Nazi Field Marshal von Rundstedt following his army’s defeat in Normandy. Inside is a column titled Slimy Slim, about “an enormous sea serpent glubbing about in Idaho’s Payette Lake”. Another article appeared in the Mediterranean edition of the U.S. Army’s newspaper for the troops, The Stars and Stripes on August 25th, 1944…and the Idaho sea monster became an international celebrity. The sea monster that would eventually be named “Sharlie” was sighted several times again in the years following 1944. It was described as dark or black with shiny skin. Reports of its size ranged from twelve to 60 feet long, but most accounts settled for 35 to 40 feet in length.
In 1947, two Oregon sportsmen fishing on Payette Lake steered their boat towards a large wake sporting three humps that they spotted in the water. The anglers said the creature appeared to be about 40 feet long. One of the fishermen, F.M. Christiansen, said, “I have been coming here for 20 years and have always figured the sea serpent talk was just a lot of hooey. I sure changed my mind.”
Instead of fearing the creature the people of McCall developed an affection for it and in 1954 the local newspaper launched a contest to name “Slimy Slim”. The grand prize was $40 and the contest judges included, among others, the governor of the state, Len Jordan, and a couple of legislators. “Sharlie” was chosen and the name stuck.
No photos of Sharlie exist, and no one has taken video or film of the mysterious monster. But sightings continued through the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1980, a Pennsylvania biology student published a research paper on Sharlie concluding that the small size of Payette Lake would make it difficult to support a large breeding population, which may also contribute to inbreeding and the eventual decline towards extinction.
The last documented sighting that we can find is in 1996 by Kate Wolf of Boise who saw it from a pontoon boat. It had humps “with peaks like the back of a dinosaur”.
So what are we to think about Sharlie, this mysterious species on this Halloween week?
In a 1985 article in McCall’s The Star News, Fish and Game Fisheries Biologist Don Anderson said that tests on Payette Lake showed no evidence of a large sea serpent. “Maybe he’s just smarter than us,” said Anderson. “I want him to be there, and if he is, we’ll protect him.”
After all, that is the mandate of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission…to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage all of Idaho’s wildlife…sea monsters included!