"Feeder" Streams: an Overlooked Gold Resource?

("Feeder" streams like this N. California creek can produce good placer gold.)

Most small-scale miners are experienced with the major gold-bearing rivers and streams in their respective areas, but many of those same gold miners and prospectors aren't as familiar with "feeder" streams. Feeders are typically the smaller, less well-known streams and creeks within a gold-bearing region or district.

Better Gold Potential?  

In some instances these gold-bearing tributaries offer better placer gold potential than the larger, high-profile rivers they feed. Secondly, feeders tend not to be quite as crowded or worked over. And, if you're willing to hike a bit, feeders can also get you away from the "maddening crowd" and into some beautiful terrain, not to mention occasional locations of peace and solitude (both of which seem in short supply these days).

Gold Pans
Gold Panning Kits
Mining Equipment
I honestly believe that select feeder streams are a much overlooked gold resource. Granted, not every feeder is going to be a good producer, but you might do well to remember here that part of what we're all about as miners is the search for gold itself...sometimes that can be nearly as fun as the finding.

Reasons and Contributors

I've had about as much experience prospecting, sampling, and working feeder streams in Northern California (and to a lesser extent here in New Mexico) as I have doing the same in major gold-bearing streams and rivers. One thing I've learned in this regard is that feeders can be quite fickle when dispensing the gold.

One feeder stream or creek may be filled with small nuggets and coarse flakes while another just a few miles away may only give up a few grains of fine color (and give that grudgingly, by the way). There are any number of reasons why this is so, but topography, hydraulics, and the nearness (or distance) of original auriferous veins all make a contribution.

Best Bet for "Snipe" Tubes

In light of my recent series of posts on underwater gold sniping, I'll reiterate the fact that smaller creeks and streams (feeders) can be your best bet when using a "snipe" tube. In larger feeders, you can also employ diving techniques (wetsuit, face mask, and snorkel) to locate placer gold in deeper pools and stretches.

Although basic gold deposition physics remain the same in feeders as they do in larger, primary streams or rivers, there are some subtle differences between the two. One of these is (aside from occasional flooding events) the strength and speed of water flow through and along feeders tends to be much less than most larger streams.

Gold "Stopping Points"

In terms of deposition this means that the placer gold in feeders is not transported as easily or as consistently as it is in larger waterways. My experience with feeders has shown me that larger obstructions like rocks and boulders tend to be more important as gold "stopping points."

 (There are some decent obstructions in this feeder.)

With this in mind, ALWAYS CHECK UNDERNEATH these types of feeder obstructions, even if bedrock still lies some distance beneath them. This is especially true for you miners working feeders in northern California's Motherlode.

Wolverine Boots
Dickies Work Clothes

Sure, moving these obstructions will require more work on your part and perhaps the use of a "come along," but the potential rewards far outweigh the time and labor you'll spend. I've seen an amazing amount of coarse gold and small nuggets taken this way.


Remember also that most feeders change course over time. Keep a practiced eye out for bench gravels or indications of old stream courses a short distance away. For those of you working northern California feeders, here's a tip:

If you run across old feeder bench gravels tightly cemented together and displaying a yellowish to yellow-orange cast, break out a miner's pick and a shovel, "puddle" that clay-bound material in a 5-gallon bucket first, and then start panning or (better yet) running that material through a portable sluice box.

You can thank me later by sending me one of the small nuggets you'll find, providing you're on one of the feeders I know to be good producers.

Best of luck out there.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Underwater Gold Sniping: a Low-Cost Approach to Getting the Gold"

(c)  Jim Rocha  (2012)

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. JR, this picture looks more like the places I've been trying. Most are a dozen feet wide at most and a foot or so deep.There are some deeper pools. Most of what I've found has come from behind the bigger rocks and logs. Some of the deeper pools look like they should be full of gold, but don't seem to be. I suspect at high water the water "boils" out the gold, or drives it too deep under the gravel to reach. You are right about "getting away from people" in these spots........getting away from the Government guys mostly! Thanks for some great reading. Gary

  2. As always, thanks for your unique perspective Gary. I appreciate your comments. Be safe out there! J.R.


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