Get That Sea Serpent!

The stigma of the enigma that is Champy.

By Megan McIntyre
Sound effects edited by Jessica Atkinson

A clear photo of Champ

A still from Dennis Hall's September 8 video, his most recent and clear shot of Champy. Copyright Dennis Hall and Champquest, September 8, 2002.



FALL 2002

Every Monster Has His Day

When it comes to publicity, our shy Lake Champlain celebrity really gets the short end of the stick.

"Champ," or "Champy," as he is fondly called by Lake Champlain locals, has always been bashful, but after almost a dozen sightings in the past year, he is finally getting the attention he deserves.

Earlier this month, the Discovery Channel brought up a team of experts to thoroughly sift through fact and fiction and solve the riddle of Champy.


Push the button! Hear the beast.

Champy 101

For those of you who are not on a first name basis with our denizen of the deep, I will offer a crash course in Champology. Champy is a supposed creature, much like the Loch Ness monster, who resides right here in our own Lake Champlain.

He has been spotted almost 300 times over the past three centuries and there are several, albeit blurry, photographs of the most recent sightings.

There are many theories on what Champy might be; the predominant theory being that he is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur that has long been thought extinct. In other words, we've got a monster in our backyard.

Champy gets a lot less attention than other monsters. Do you see children dressed up as little green Champies for Halloween? No, I didn't think so. There's definitely a prejudice around this mysterious creature. This is why I decided to conduct a Champy hunt to see if I could get some straight answers from the monster himself.

Operation Champ

Of course, no single person can hunt down a legend alone, so I invited an associate to help me out. It is important to point out that neither one of us are very adept at catching anything, let alone a lake monster.

Think Lucy and Desi do Plattsburgh and you'll have an idea of our low chance of success and affinity for disaster.

Every monster hunt begins the same way: with cool gadgets. After pooling our limited resources, my partner and I realized that chances were slim that we were going to catch Champy with a paper clip, 57 cents, lip-gloss, and an empty diet soda can.

We were Lucy and Desi, not MacGyver. But being as optimistic as we were, we decided to plow on ahead anyway.

Next crisis: how does one dress for stalking a monster? Must one accessorize as one would with a formal affair? Would a tiara and boa attract Champy's attention better than satin pumps and a cocktail ring?

It was decided that dinosaur hunters of any caliber would need to hunt down Champy in a quality Avenger style cat suit complete with heat seeking lasers. Since Avenger style cat suits are in short supply in Plattsburgh, it was finally decided that windbreakers and sweatpants would have to do.

Armed with our trusty penlights and some chewing gum (no one wants to meet a fabled creature with garlic breath) we were ready to go.

We got as far as the parking lot before common sense took hold. We didn't know where to find Champy; our dinky little penlight wasn't going to light any area bigger than a thimble, and most importantly, it was frigidly cold out. It was time for Plan B.

After careful deliberation we decided to look for a Champy expert (Lucy and Desi get smart).

Champ Questors

Up until a few years ago, Joseph Zarzynski was the leading authority in the search for Champy. Zarzynski made many strides in the hunt for Champy, including founding the Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation.

Zarzynski has canvassed Lake Champlain with electrical surveillance equipment and reported large objects moving in the lake, although nothing conclusive could be unearthed.

Zarzynski is, perhaps, most notorious for his part in convincing local and state governments to put protective measures on Champy so that he may become a protected species.

Recently, Zarzynski has given up the Champy hunt in favor of exploring shipwrecks. The Champy reins have been passed on to Mr. Dennis Hall, the founder of Champ Quest.

Hall is attributed as the only person to successfully and repeatedly catch Champy on film and video. Hall's Champy videos can be seen on his website and he is glad to hear about any new sightings. His gadgets are cooler than ours, but it's safe to say he doesn't have a cool Avenger style cat suit either. So, I guess we were somewhat even.

After seeking out Hall, it was time to obtain some information. Hall's fascination with Champy began in 1962. His aunt and uncle had been out on a boat for the day, and had returned to tell an engaging story of a monster that had swam beneath their boat. Hall became immediately hooked on the idea that there really was a monster living in Lake Champlain.

As he grew older, he began looking and hoping to see the monster for himself.

Hall recounts his first Champy sighting. "It was in a marsh…very close…I could see it, hear it, and smell it. I did not think of Champ at the time…this thing was a monster."

This brings up an interesting point. What was the creature called before it was known as Champy? The Monster Formerly Known as AHH!? It just doesn't have the same ring as Champy.


Hall describes each Champy sighting as being more and more nerve-wracking.

"The sun is in my eyes more, the camera shakes more, and it catches me off guard easier than it used to," he says.

Hall has calculated a complex calendar on his website that tells a Champ Questor when the best time to catch a glimpse of Champy is.

Hall has seen Champy so many times that he believes he has figured out what the monster is. Or, that is to say, monsters. That's right folks, Champy isn't a single entity, he's a population.

Hall believes the creatures being sighted are Champtanystropheus, a variation of the long believed extinct Tanystropheus, a creature with a long neck, much like the well-known brontosaurus.

What would Hall do if he were to catch the elusive Champy? The answer is obvious, at least for me. I would do as any North Country girl would do; harpoon that mother and take him to the nearest taxidermist. Then I'd stick him on the wall right next to the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. He'd make a great conversation piece.

Hall has a less enthusiastic approach for when he finally gets close to Champy. He'd rather take photographs and videos of the monster to document its existence to scientists.

I prefer the more physical approach. It's quite difficult to deny Champy's existence when he's mounted on your living room wall with his eyes agog, staring straight at you. But to each his own I guess.

Hall is excited to see what the Discovery Channel will turn up in its search for Champ. There is no information yet on when the results from their endeavors will air, but rest assured that every Champ enthusiast out there will be glued to their television screens, breathless with anticipation. Keep checking the Discovery Channel website for more details.

This Article Will Self Destruct…

And so ends our endeavors in Operation Champy. While we didn't actually get to see Champy himself, we did get to run around the North Country in Avenger style cat suits with heat seeking lasers. we didn't get to do that either, but we did get to talk with someone well versed in the legend surrounding Champy. We got to score some fun footage of him, too.

The results of the Discovery Channel's quest for Champy may or may not turn up some interesting details. But whether they find anything below the surface of Lake Champlain, Champy will always remain a local legend around here and enthusiasts will continue the hunt for him.

Next time you just happen to be wandering around Lake Champlain with a video camera keep your eye out for a dark blob skimming the surface. If you're quick you might be able to catch the elusive Champy on film. And if you happen to be running around with a harpoon…well get in touch with me, and we'll work out a price in large unmarked bills.

Think you've seen Champy or do you think this is just a load of hooey?








Champy sighting from June 2002, with detail and zoom.
Copyright Dennis Hall, June 12, 2002.










An Amateur's Guide to Champy Hunting


An online "zoo" of mysterious creatures, this site features the direct and indirect history of Champy and the people who have sited him. Also on this page are creatures such as the Loch Ness monster, Champy's famous Scottish counterpart.


Champ Quest

Dennis Hall's homepage, this site features all of his pictures of Champy and accounts of his sightings. There is a calendar that depicts the best time to search for Champy and the email address to contact him if you would like to report a sighting. An added bonus is a collaboration of search tips from Hall himself to help the amateur Champy Hunter.


Discovery Channel

The Discovery Channel homepage. Stay tuned to this site to find out when the special investigation on Champy will air. While you're there, check out the links to other sea creatures, such as the legendary Giant Squid.


Lake Champlain Monster

Another site dedicated to explaining Champy to the world. This site features the best photo ever taken of Champy, as well as a link to a Champy book written by author John Kirk.


Fun Champy Facts

~The largest mass sighting of Champ was in 1984 when fifty-eight people claimed to have seen him.

~The Vermont Expos, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Montreal Expos, has Champy as their mascot. He's also available for holiday parties and special events.

~Some scientists have discovered that both Lake Champlain and Loch Ness have seiches, underwater waves that throw debris to the surface. This could account for Champy sightings.

~The first supposed sighting of Champ was in 1609 by Samuel de Champlain. There is still some controversy about this, for some scientists believe that Champlain was in the St. Lawerence River and the creature he saw was in fact a large garfish.

~In 1873 P.T. Barnum offered $50,000 to anyone who could bring him the Lake Champlain Monster.


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