An afternoon spent at Payette Lake can be relaxing and refreshing – as long as you refrain from dwelling on what lies beneath.
The 5,330-acre lake, around which the resort town of McCall, Idaho, was built, is 392 feet at its deepest recorded depth. And within those murky depths lives a beast called Sharlie. Or so some say.
The first documented sighting of Payette Lake’s serpentine monster took place in 1920, and in the 1940s several groups of people also claimed to have seen a serpent 30 to 40 feet long with humps and scaly skin. As word spread, tourists headed for McCall hoping to sight the mysterious creature. In 1954 the local newspaper, the Star News, held a contest to name the lake monster. A Virginian won the contest with the name “Sharlie.”
Some believe the monster is fictitious; others think it’s a giant sturgeon or some other unusually large fish. Whether Sharlie is real or not, the town of McCall claims him proudly.
South of the lake is a street called Sharlie Lane. A small public garden on the lake’s west side has been named Sharlie’s Garden. Gift shops sell Sharlie t-shirts and stuffed Sharlie dolls. And every year during the town’s winter carnival, at least one sculptor carves a giant Sharlie in ice.
Sharlie stories and occasional sightings (the latest documented in 2002) don’t keep locals or tourists out of the lake. Water skiers, wakeboarders and jet skiers take advantage of the wide expanse of crisp glacial water all summer.
For those afraid of mystery serpents, however, this writer recommends sticking to the lake’s shallow edges.