Working Low-Water Bedrock (Part 1)

 (Low-water conditions along California's South Yuba River. The S. Yuba carries very good gold, especially below the S. Yuba Recreation Area.)

In a previous post I promised to talk about working bedrock during low-water conditions similar to those impacting some of the West's rivers and streams, especially California. So here you go.

Are You Experienced?

Right from the get go I'll tell you that my small-scale mining "sources" in California are pretty excited about the accessibility factor out there right now. They're getting good gold and the prognosis is positive for even better gold recovery later on as we move into the summer months. From past experience I'll tell you that those of us who worked California Motherlode river claims back in the 1980s used to live for mid-to-late summer and early fall when water levels would drop and allow us to get at spots that were typically off limits or difficult to work even with a suction dredge.

However, you'll have to forget suction dredging (as we commonly know it) in California due to the anti-dredging legislation passed there in recent years. The "greenies" and their minions have always been fact, anti-everything except what suits their particular agendas. But you can laugh that sort of crap off when water conditions are the way they are now in California because a suction dredge isn't necessary to get decent gold, including nuggets. That is, if you're reasonably experienced and in possession of rudimentary small-scale mining gear.

Main Issue

The main issue any prospective small-scale gold prospector or miner faces in the West these days is finding open areas to work. Mining claims have always been numerous and active in California (and the West at large), not to mention the fact that fewer public mining or panning areas are available due to factors such as private property and governmental issues. This is the essential fly in the ointment for anyone excited about working the current low-water conditions...and excited you should be. I can be of little help in this regard overall, but I can make a few suggestions that may "pan out."

1) You can buy or lease a claim. I don't recommend the first alternative simply because of the sheer volume of rip offs and scams that have occurred with mining claims since gold started to climb over a thousand dollars a troy ounce. Unfortunately, California has hosted the majority of active claim scammers since 2008 and despite public exposure and outcry, a few are still working their hustle there. All this said, my apologies go out to all the trustworthy claim holders/sellers who are as honest as the day is long. They've been unfairly hurt by the lowlives and scumbags who have no ethics or honesty. So the upshot is that you'd better do your research up front to locate one of the good claim purveyors and not one of the shysters. Do I make recommendations regarding claim sellers? No, I do not. In truth, the only reputable seller I know personally is in Canada and not the United States. Just telling it like it is.

(Now's the time to get the good stuff out West.)

OK, what about leasing a claim? This is a great idea if you know you'll be prospecting and mining enough to make the potential lease costs worthwhile. To take this a step further, this means if you're a weekend gold miner a lease is probably not going to be cost effective for you, unless you're a master of the art of the deal. Leases usually run on a percentage basis of the gold recovered although some claim owners will take a flat fee deal.

2) You can pay as you go. Another excellent strategy to gain access to proven gold ground under exceptional low-water conditions is to pay a daily fee to work someone's claim. I guess you could call this a pay-as-you go lease and I'll tell you right now that many claim owners will consider this option seriously. I know, because I spent a great deal of time mining the Northern Motherlode's streams and many of the claim holders/miners in that area were getting by in what I term "subsistence living." More than a few were willing to talk to you about access to their claims if it involved folding green in various amounts. Or to put it more bluntly, money talks and bullshit walks.

Your Best Bet

I know you're champing at the bit to learn how to work bedrock gold under low-water conditions, but please be patient with me. All the tips and tricks in the world aren't going to do you one bit of good if don't have any ground to work under those conditions, right? So at the outset you need to figure out a way to overcome this first hurdle before you go charging off to the heart of the matter.

What about public areas where you have open and free access? Well pard, in the California Motherlode there are a few places like that you can work, but understand here and now that every other would-be gold grabber will be at those locations too with the current low-water "rush" that's going on. Not to mention the fact that the public areas I know in California have been churned over pretty good in the past. Sure, the current low-water conditions will help, not hinder, you in those locations but my recommendation is that you find a way to get away from the crowds and onto better gold ground...that's your best bet to get some very good gold.

OK, I've set the groundwork. Next time I'll get down to specifics on working low-water bedrock. Until then stay safe, be good to your loved ones, and keep on dreaming.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2014

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. My back yard! Yes a lot more surface to work, get in and get out! Check out claims because most are

  2. Yep, your own backyard Greg. Should be some excellent conditions up there, even more so when mid-summer rolls around. Best, J.R.


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