Most people have heard old stories of the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century. Prospectors from across the United States, and even across the world, headed for the West Coast in hopes of striking it rich. Some of them found their fortunes, others were not so lucky, but the thought of such an endeavor may be exciting enough to make 21st century folks wish it were 1848 all over again.
What many people don’t realize is that the gold rush is not over. Well, perhaps the ‘rush’ part is a thing of the past, but that is not to say that people don’t still find gold. Gold prospecting is alive and well for those that have the ambition and spirit to do it. For those adventurous few, there may be no better method than suction dredging.
Gold dredges can be very large when used for industrial purposes, but dredges for personal use look and function much like a vacuum cleaner. Having found a stream that has potential for gold, the dredge will be brought directly into the water. The dredge will have a small engine and a long hose. Once the dredge is running, the various materials on the stream bed (rocks and sand) will be sucked into the mouth of the hose. From there they will travel into the body of the machine, where the rocks and sand will be separated from any gold pieces. The rocks and sand will exit out the rear of the machine, while the gold is stored safely inside for later removal.
The first thing you will need in order to suction dredge is the dredge itself. Other equipment will include either a wetsuit or waders. Waders are sufficient for shallow streams, but deeper water requires a wetsuit and facemask. Even in very shallow water, many people prefer to use the wetsuit and facemask because they allow you to get right up close to the stream bed. This close proximity gives you a better sense of exactly what materials are present in the stream bed.
Proper containers for any gold you may find are another thing to have on hand. You will need to determine whether or not a permit is required for dredging in your area. You also probably want to have a friend or partner to work with you, as suction dredging generally works best with one person to run the machine and another to run the hose. Dredging can be done alone, but the process is much more efficient with two people.
In determining the best places to suction dredge, it may be useful to simply ask around. The gold involved in suction dredging can be worth a lot of money, so people may not be inclined to tell you about their favorite spots. For this reason, it can be hard to find any official information on good gold dredging spots. Still, asked face to face, people might be kind enough to let you in on their secrets!
Some streams are deeper than others, and some streams are deep at certain times of the year and shallow at others. The depth of a stream has little to do with whether or not it has gold, but it may have a lot to do with whether or not you can access the gold. Better gear allows you to work in deeper water, and this means more overall opportunities for finding a payday. Another thing to consider is that some streams are very cold at certain times of the year, so you might want to visit them during warmer seasons.
Something to look for in a stream is exposed bedrock. If the bedrock is right up at the surface, then there is a much greater chance of finding gold. Another thing to look for is veins of black sand. Black sand is filled with lots of heavy materials, and this is a good sign for gold prospectors. Finding black sand does not guarantee that you will find gold, but places where you do find gold you usually also find black sand, so it’s a good place to dredge.
One important tip for suction dredging is that you should not crank your dredge engine all the way up; this forces too much material into the nozzle, including big rocks, and you could risk breaking your machine, or simply plugging it up. So it is necessary to get the throttle just right, so that it is sucking enough but not too much.
Some people mistakenly assume that the more material they dredge, the better. But this is not the case. If you dredge too fast, you will have so much material going through that the gold could get lost in the mix. Of course, if you dredge too slowly you run the risk of not passing enough material through your machine. In this case, your chances of striking a nice payday will simply be too low. So, dredging at a moderate rate is your best bet.
Determining the meaning of “moderate rate” is something that you will have to figure out for your specific situation. The strength of your machine and diameter of your hose are two considerations. Another thing to consider is how many large or medium sized rocks are present. If you’re lucky, you will be working with mostly smaller rocks, and won’t need to worry too much about clogging your hose or damaging your machine. As much as possible, you should throw large rocks to the side so that they do not enter the hose at all. Of course, if you are working in an area with many large rocks, you may not be able to divert them all from the hose. In this case, it is important to lower the throttle on your machine.
All in all, suction dredging can be fun, exciting, and quite lucrative. Don’t worry if you don’t strike it rich on your first time out. Just keep at it and chances are good that your effort will eventually be rewarded.