Not long ago, a man and his grandson cast their lines into a Florida canal and hauled in an unexpected catch: two military-grade sniper rifles.
In London, a young boy who was magnet fishing in one of the city’s canals unwittingly caught an unexploded World War II grenade. (He wasn’t hurt, and he gave the grenade to the authorities who safely detonated it.)
And in a viral YouTube video (shown below), an Australian man and his friends hired a crane to bring up one of their underwater finds in Amsterdam: a large safe filled with stolen (and valuable) coins.
But these people weren’t typical anglers. All of them were magnet fishing.
What is magnet fishing? You could call it the newest form of amateur treasure hunting. But unlike other types of scavenging like metal detecting, magnet fishing (also called magnetic fishing) doesn’t require expensive equipment or permits (yet).
To go magnet fishing, you simply attach a powerful magnet to the end of a rope, throw it into water such as a lake or river, and see what metal objects it brings up. You may find trash, or you may find treasure.
Magnet Fishing Gear
While you don’t need a lot of gear to go magnet fishing, you do need to have the right type of equipment. Here are the basics:
The most important piece of gear is the magnet itself—and not just any old magnet will do. Choose a large neodymium magnet that’s designed for magnetic fishing. These magnets are available in one-sided or two-sided designs and can have between 200 and 1000 pounds of pulling force.
Neodymium magnets were developed in the 1980s and are the strongest commercially available magnets in the world. Today they’re used in everything from computer hard drives to cordless power tools. All that to say, these magnets aren’t toys, they’re tools, and can result in injury if they’re not used correctly.
A powerful neodymium magnet isn’t a tool you should leave laying around. When it’s not in use, it’s best to store it in its own container like a tackle box or even a Styrofoam cooler.
Once you have a magnet, you’ll need a sturdy rope to attach it to. Climbing ropes work well for magnet fishing, as will other ropes made from synthetic materials like nylon. The length of the rope depends on where you’ll be fishing, but 50-feet long is a good starting length.
Items that are pulled from lakes and rivers are not only wet, they’re usually dirty and can be covered in slime, rust, oil, and other things you won’t want to touch with your bare hands. While they’re not an absolute necessity, waterproof work gloves or even rubber gloves are worth bringing along.
Pole Hook or Net
Another optional item that might make your treasure hunting easier is a pole hook or net. This can be used to help drag an unwieldy object out of the water or to snag an item that’s not all metal and isn’t well-attached to the magnet as it’s brought up.
Trash Bags or Buckets
Make sure you have a way to carry your finds—and any trash you bring to the surface. Disposable trash bags will do the trick most of the time but you might also want to think about how you’ll haul larger objects.
Where to Go Magnet Fishing
You can go magnet fishing in just about any body of water: lakes, rivers, ponds, creeks, canals. But here are some specific places to try:
- Bridges: Because of regular traffic, the waters below a car or rail bridge are a great place to look for lost (or discarded) items. If it’s allowed, try fishing from the bridge itself. Or try fishing from the shore below the bridge.
- Piers: Piers tend to see regular foot traffic, and they provide a good vantage point above the water.
- Urban or suburban rivers: Waterways that flow through populated areas have a high likelihood of objects to discover.
- Harbors or marinas: If you can get out on the water in a boat, harbors can be great places to magnet fish.
- River mouths: Fishing near places where rivers empty into lakes or the ocean means you may find items that have been washed downstream.
- Historical sites: If local laws and ordinances allow it, you may be able to go magnet fishing in water that’s near a historical site. But always make sure to check with the land owners or managers.
How to Go Magnet Fishing
If you know how to fish, you know how to magnet fish. If you don’t know how to fish, the concept is still simple enough for a beginner to understand.
- Gather your gear and securely attach the magnet to one end of your rope using either the figure 8 follow-through or palomar knot. (These are the two most common knots in magnet fishing.)
- Choose your fishing location. Make sure that you won’t be dropping your magnet near any other metal structures or objects.
- Drop your line in the water. Then experiment with letting out more line or dragging the magnet along the bottom.
- Pull your line out of the water to see if you’ve “caught” anything, then repeat steps 3 and 4.
Hazards of Magnet Fishing
Like any activity, it’s important to understand the risks before you try it. Here are some hazards of magnet fishing to consider:
- Dangerous or hazardous materials: People who go magnet fishing in Europe have discovered grenades, ammunition, and other artifacts from World War II. But as the Florida story at the beginning of this post reminds us, it’s possible to come in contact with hazardous items wherever you go magnet fishing. If you come across weapons or other dangerous items, contact local police or other authorities.
- Injury: Neodymium magnets are powerful and could easily cause injury if you get between them and a metal surface (or another magnet). Another potential for injury comes with the discoveries themselves. When handling items you’ve pulled from the water, be sure to wear protective gloves and avoid rusted or sharp surfaces.
- Trespassing: Never go magnet fishing on private land without the property owner’s permission. Likewise, if you’re fishing on public land, be aware of local rules. As magnet fishing becomes more popular, some communities are developing guidelines to regulate the activity.