In Search of Drunken Bob’s Secret Fishing Hole

Jul 14, 2021

Just like any good fishing story, all great legends are a blend of truth, exaggeration, foggy memories, and hope—with the odd six-pack or two thrown in for flavoring. The story of Drunken Bob’s Secret Fishing Hole is just such a tale.

The first time I ever heard about Drunken Bob’s Secret Fishing Hole was over beers one early fall day in Mammoth Lakes. A short-lived local named Chris had finally had one-too-many Epic IPAs and started telling me and one of my all-time favorite fishing buddies, Dustin Stewart, the rather fishy tale.

Chris said that his father-in-law, better known throughout certain parts of Southern California and the Eastern Sierra as “Drunken Bob,” would tell him stories about a little hidden lake not too far from Mammoth where golden trout could be found. Chris said the lake was supposed to be near the trail to the Sherwin Lakes—a popular day hike destination a couple of miles outside of town.

Drunken Bob had told Chris he’d fished the lake for years, first stumbling upon it decades ago when he was working in the area. He never saw another soul around the place, except for the buddies he’d fish it with, which is why it became known as his “secret hole.” The lake was far enough off the beaten path and so small and well-hidden behind pine trees, aspens and tule reeds that it was easy to miss. Drunken Bob also said that since the fish never got any action, so they were easy to catch.

Golden trout—make that dumb, aggressive golden trout—in our backyard and living below 9,000-feet! Dustin and I were instantly hooked on the idea of trying to find the hidden fishing hole and to find out if its legend was true. But Chris didn’t fish, so he wasn’t interested in that. Luckily for us, there was another element of the legend of Drunken Bob’s Secret Hole that did appeal to Chris.

The little hidden lake had been Drunken Bob’s special place. It was where the Vietnam Vet and his buddies would return regularly when they were young and active. The type of place he’d go to if the world ever fell apart or if he just wanted to run away from it for a while. In preparation for just such an event, Drunken Bob told Chris he’d buried a mason jar full of wacky tobacky, along with some other camping necessities, by the lake many years ago but hadn’t been back since. Chris said if we’d help him find the lake, we could fish while he searched for his own treasure.

A few mornings later, we all met at the trailhead and went in search of Drunken Bob’s Secret Fishing Hole.

Armed with a rudimentary mental map pieced together from years of Drunken Bob’s stories, Chris led the way. We hiked up much of the popular but rather steep trail towards Sherwin Lakes and then stumbled around the mountains for a while before Dustin finally found a body of water. “It was small, more like a duck pond than a lake,” he recalls. “It’s super easy to walk right past it and not even know it was there.”

With the warm fall sunshine heating up the late morning, Dustin and I rigged up our fly rods while Chris started searching for a tree that looked like it had been hit by lightening. The tree was the mark for the buried stash.

The lake was small, but deep. Though much of it was covered in reeds, there was an oval stretch of open water in the middle. There were few rocks and no solid ground in the water, so moving through the muddy bottom felt like struggling against quicksand. It would take a few moments after each step for the water to clear up again. While the wading was nearly impossible, the dense, weedy aquatic plants lining the banks and shallow sections made back casting completely impossible.

Nonetheless, Dustin is an artist with a fly rod in his hands and was able to roll out a nice cast to where the sedges met the open water. The black and red ant pattern settled gently upon the water and then … bam! A flash of gold and crimson darted out of the reeds and hammered the fly.

Dustin set the hook and was able to play the fish in the open water before bringing it to the net. And sure enough, just as Drunken Bob had foretold, the trout indeed had that golden hue of California’s famous state fish. It was about a foot long with a healthy plump to its belly and shades of yellow and red that glowed like neon lights in the High Sierra sun. As glorious as a magazine picture come to life, the golden was nearly as feisty as it was beautiful. It quickly broke free from Dustin’s wet hands and was gone in a golden flash.

Soon after the fish safely swam away, a strong Sierra breeze began to blow toward us and we decided to go check in on Chris. It turns out he had not been so lucky, and the other treasure of Drunken Bob’s Secret Hole could not be confirmed, nor consumed.

As we toasted a round of beers to Drunken Bob and had some lunch, Chris gave us some more background about the fishing hole. The story goes that many years ago a Department of Fish and Game employee tasked with stocking the Sierra Nevada’s native species in the high country beyond Sherwin Lakes had been forced back by bad weather. During his retreat he stumbled upon the hard-to-find body of water. To help lighten his load for the final descent out of the mountains, he decided to dump some of his golden trout into the small lake.

Whether the story is true or not, just like any good legend, no one really knows. But we do know there are some golden trout, or at least hybrid goldens, in Drunken Bob’s Secret Fishing Hole.

We eventually worked our way back over to Sherwin Lakes. The fishing there was great as always. The brook trout in backcountry lakes like the ones that make up the Sherwins are usually teaming with the brightly colored char. And though the brookies are beautiful fish, they aren’t native to the Sierra, nor are they as magical or as legendary as golden trout.

Not all fishing stories are true. The same goes for legends. But the story of Drunken Bob Secret Hole is, and it’s good to know such places and stories still exist.

Mike McKenna

Award-winning author and journalist Mike McKenna is the writer behind the new book Casting Around the Eastern Sierra, which was recently awarded runner-up in the Outdoor Writers Association of California's Best Outdoor Guidebook category. The book focuses on fishing in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area, with tips and tricks from local experts.

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