You slip the paddle into the still water, careful not to splash as you silently glide across the glassy surface. The only movement is the gentle ripples from the bow of your canoe. You are fare from the shore, and all you hear is the occasional bird call in the distance.
Then, behind you, a splash.
You pause for a second, look over your shoulder and see nothing. It was probably a fish jumping or something. But then there’s another splash, closer this time, and it sounds like a pretty damn big fish. A long, horse-like head rises above the water, looking down at you from atop a long, slender neck. Looks like you’ve got a lake monster on your hands.
There are dozens of lake monsters in folklore from around the world, from the famous Loch Ness Monster (Nessie if you’re nasty) to Champ of Lake Champlain to Nahuelito in Argentina. But no matter where they’ve been sighted, lake monsters tend to have a few key things in common.
Almost all lake monsters are described as something like an oversized snake or a plesiosaur. A long neck is almost always part of the deal. There’s also a pattern of spotting the monster on land, from footprints on the shore to actually encountering the monster, usually the plesiosaur type, shuffling around like a seal. Lake monster sightings are very old, with the earliest Nessie sightings traced back to 565 AD. Most descriptions have gotten less horse-like and more reptile-like over time, suggesting an evolution of older kelpie legends.
The good news is that there aren’t many stories of lake monsters attacking. There’s a report from 1907 describing an attack by the Bear Lake Monster in which a horse was killed, but nothing suggests that lake serpents are prone to hunting anything but fish. Accidental death and injury are another story. In the 1930s, a motorcyclist claims to have nearly collided with Nessie as it crossed a road, and some attribute the 1952 death of John Rodes Cobb during his attempt to break the water speed record to an unexpected wake on the loch caused by Nessie.
The good news is that if you bump into a lake beast and let it go about its business, there’s a solid chance that it will ignore you and you’ll get away unscathed. However, no guarantees that you won’t accidentally get maimed or that it won’t fight back if you provoke it.