Loch Ness hunter: Have we been catfished by Nessie?

This shadowy something is what someone says is a photo of the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. (AP PHOTO)

SCOTLAND (CNN) – Loch Ness Monster believers everywhere brace yourselves: Nessie might just be a catfish.

As the lore goes, the legendary creature is rumored to live in Scotland’s Loch Ness lake. There have been several reported sightings in history dating back to AD 565, according to the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register. There are sightings as recent as April 2015, but one longtime searcher now says that perhaps it wasn’t the famous creature.

Steve Feltham has been searching for the Loch Ness Monster for 24 years, and he’s recently come to the conclusion that the legendary creature people have reported seeing might have been a Wels catfish. These freshwater fish, native to Europe, can grow to monstrous sizes and do look a bit terrifying. They can reach well over 600 pounds (272 kilograms) and more than 9 feet (2.7 meters) long.

He told Sky News that he often picks up very large animals on his sonar, some reaching the size of a car. “We get sonar contacts with things that are far bigger than any fish that should live in this body of water,” he said. “We only get one or two decent sightings a year.” He believes that the large catfish can explain these sonar readings.

CNN couldn’t reach Feltham on Friday, but on his website, he chronicles his journey in search of the mythical monster. In 1991, he sold his home and left his job and girlfriend in pursuit of Nessie. He lives in what he describes as an ex-mobile library van at Dores Beach on Loch Ness. He searches for Nessie full-time but makes and sells figurines of the creature to tourists on the side to supplement his income.

The Loch Ness Monster can easily be described as Feltham’s passion, and he realized it at a young age. He first traveled to the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, a group of volunteers that also searches for Nessie, with his family when he was 7 years old. He was immediately hooked.

Feltham stressed that he has not claimed to have solved the mystery of Nessie and he fully intends to continue searching for other plausible theories. And even if he has solved the conundrum, he has no regrets. “I’m in my utopia living here on the shores of the loch,” he told Sky News. CNN reached out to Feltham but has not heard back yet.

The largest Wels catfish that has been caught in the record book of the International Game Fish Association weighed 297 pounds, but Jason Schratwieser, conservation director for the association, explained that there are ones that have been caught that are bigger than that.

“You know, catfish get big and they are pretty scary looking,” he said. “They’re big enough that a giant one might be able to eat a baby, but I don’t think they are man-eaters.”

These huge Wels catfish are caught throughout the world, but primarily are seen in Spain and Italy. In fact, in February Dino Ferrari reeled in a whopping 280-pound, 8.75-foot-long catfish along Italy’s Po River.

Schratwieser has his doubts that the sightings could be contributed to the large fish though, saying that they don’t look like the long-necked, dinosaur-type creature that one imagines when you hear “Nessie.” “If they (Wels catfish) were introduced to the lake and had a viable population, I would expect people would catch them, you know?”

While he doubts that the catfish are what people may have seen, he also doubts the existence of the monster, citing his pragmatic personality as a biologist. He says Nessie stories may have just started as urban legends that people took too seriously.

“I think people want to believe stuff like that. I think that it’s exciting to think that there are these strange things throughout the world,” he said. “But again, for a confined body of water like that, I would be surprised if there was anything monster-ish in there.”

Schratwieser has other theories too.

“Well, that region of the world is known for excellent whiskey. …”

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