Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide (retired), founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association

Many people think of New Jersey only in terms of beaches, big cities, and tidy farms that provide the delicious fresh produce that gives NJ its nickname, The Garden State. These individuals would find it hard to believe that you could exit one of the myriad highways that crisscross New Jersey and find extensive tracts of wild lands just a mile or two down a county road.  Such places do exist, however. Finding them takes only a bit of exploring.

If you know the right spots you can drop a canoe into a tiny creek at a county road bridge and, with sufficient persistence and determination, bushwhack your way into a network of swamps and shallow lakes that are home to myriad fish, birds, and other wildlife. If not for the distant sound of road traffic and the occasional fly-over of an aircraft, you could be deep in a trackless wilderness. This is fertile ground for the imagination, and gave rise to the Legend of Candock Charlie.

He is a rapacious predator thought to be the unnatural spawn of a playful breeding experiment carried out by the Jersey Devil himself, in which a Snapping Turtle was crossed with a giant Chain Pickerel. Candock Charlie is named for the thick stands of yellow-flowered pond lilies that are a dominant feature of his habitat. He hibernates during the winter, burrowing deep into the mucky bottom of the lakes and ponds in his home range. He is very secretive, and his excellent natural camouflage makes him invisible to most humans. This protects him from those who enjoy “monster hunting.” A few gifted people can sometimes pick him up momentarily in their peripheral vision, but as soon as they try to focus on him he blends into the environment without a trace.

When Candocks sprout in shallow, swampy lakes each spring, sending up their tough, fleshy green leaves and round yellow flowers, the thick cover they provide allows Charlie to move about more freely and to employ his preferred strategy of hunting from ambush. He feeds on a wide variety of wildlife, including his relatives. Thankfully he does not seem to have acquired a taste for human flesh, at least not yet.  Anglers and bird-watchers often spot his large wake moving through the Candocks as he hunts, and sometimes there will be an explosive splash. Those who witness these phenomena will assume they are caused by beaver, muskrat, or large fish.  Sometimes they are very wrong.

Since Charlie is one-of-a-kind, and there are no females of his species available for breeding, he often back-crosses with both sides of his family tree. This results in some particularly large and cantankerous Snapping Turtles and Pickerel.

It takes a lot of forage to keep a monster like Charlie fed. When food becomes scarce he will sometimes travel by night during the dark of the moon, venturing boldly out of the swamps and into larger lakes and farm ponds. So, if you’re fishing or bird-watching in New Jersey and see a big wake cutting through the water, or hear a heavy splash back among the reeds, beware! You just might have had a close encounter with Candock Charlie.

2 Comments

  1. “[People] Men really need sea-monsters in their personal oceans. An ocean without its unnamed monsters would be like a completely dreamless sleep.” – John Steinbeck

  2. Charlie sounds like a hoot! I knew someone once who used to take inner city kids on overnight canoe trips. He invented a frog around the campfire once, casually mentioning that rumor claimed it had eaten lone fishermen back around the turn of the century…gobbled them whole…and that folks say a frog can live for hundreds of years, feeding on the hapless…but of course it couldn’t be proven because it was so big that nobody had ever seen all of it at one time. Got the kids to stick close to camp that way.

    “Unnatural spawns of snapping turtles are the best way to keep city slickers in the city and not clogging the banks of a stream.” – William Faulkner

    – Mike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *