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In Search of Auvergne’s Lake Monsters

Few things inspire more wonder than lake monsters. For years, researchers — captivated by blurry photographs, eyewitness accounts, and local legends — have sent out expedition after expedition in the hopes of dredging up one of these creatures from the abyss. Not one of these quests, however promising, has ever managed to turn up anything new to science. But must all lake monsters look like long-necked plesiosaurs? Not necessarily. Auvergne’s lake monsters, for instance, have no resemblance to the notoriously elusive Loch Ness Monster, but they make up for it with attitude.

The silure or wels catfish is a massive, mostly bottom-dwelling beast that can reach lengths of over 2.5 metres (9.8 feet) and weights of around 150 kilograms (330 pounds). Considered an invasive species in Auvergne, they can be found in several of the region’s lakes and rivers, where they prey on birds, rodents, trout, and anything they can sink their jaws into. In Germany, wels catfish have also been accused of attacking humans. In Auvergne, they appear to be more wary of humans, hunting primarily in the dead of night.

Unlike other lake monsters, tracking down Auvergne’s leviathans requires no submarines or floating laboratories, just perseverance and good old fishing know-how. First, the monster-hunter hopeful sets out at dusk and uses an echo sounder to pinpoint areas where the fish might be hiding. After guiding the boat to the designated location, he begins his ritual, striking the water with a clonk — a baton-like instrument designed to drive the catfish to the surface.

Eventually, the lake monster — like a sea demon evoked from the depths — seizes the fishing line and attempts to drag his pursuer to a watery doom. Adrenaline takes over, everything becomes epic — cinematic even. As the boat shakes, rocked by the hidden force below, scenes of Spielberg’s Jaws unfold spontaneously before the hunter’s eyes. During the tug of war he thinks — he feels — the film’s famous theme thumping, thumping, thumping in his brain.

Photo via The Fédération du Puy-de-Dôme pour la Pêche et la Protection du Milieu Aquatique

Perhaps this is how two fishermen felt in July 2020, when they went to war with and defeated a two-metre-long catfish in the benthic regions of Lake Aydat. Among other things, their much-fanfared feat confirmed long-held suspicions that Auvergne’s lakes and rivers held populations of large water monsters.

Might the region also be home to larger specimens of silures? Possibly. The best way to find out is to get out on the water yourself. Purchase a fishing licence (easily obtainable from then map out where local anglers have had recent encounters, such as Lake Cassiere, the plan d’eau of Cournon d’Auvergne, Lake Enchanet, and the Bort-Les-Orgues reservoir. Auvergne abounds in lakes; it’s never too early to plan your fishing trip.

For more tips on interesting things to do in Auvergne, click “Trip Ideas” below.