Working Low-Water Bedrock (Part 7)

(Low-water or shallow water conditions provide better opportunities for good gold recovery. This location was a gold producer for me not just because obstacles like this abounded, but false and real bedrock lay exposed directly behind me.)

As I continue with this series of posts, I'll be talking again about gold suction devices. In this post the items of concern are various types of hand and mouth-operated suction tools, most of which are quite simple in concept and design.

Straws and Surgical Tubing

Yes, you heard right. Even the lowly straw has been and continues to be used as a type of gold recovery device. In ancient times hollow reeds were used in this regard and more recently, plastic table straws (like those you get with your Big Gulp soft drink at 7-11) continue to be used by small-scale placer miners working low-water or exposed, dry bedrock. A more effective item these days, however, is a short length of surgical tubing (due to its flexibility).

(Even a simple length of surgical tubing can help you find gold in low-water bedrock conditions.)

Here's where I've led you astray though. When applied to gold recovery endeavors, mouth-operated straws and surgical tubing are not used as placer gold recovery tools per se...just imagine using a straw to suck up small flakes of gold from bedrock and then swallowing the same! Your gold recovery operations just got a lot more complicated and undoubtedly more messy. No, the usefulness of that straw or length of surgical tubing lies in its ability to expose gold on bedrock, not remove it.

Ingenious Adaptations

Let me give you a couple of example of what I'm talking about, OK? Not long ago I ran across an old photo from the Depression Era (1930s) of some dry placer miners working exposed bedrock in the historic placers located just east of Caballo Lake here in New Mexico. In a close-up, grainy black and white photo two of these "down-'n'-outers" have their faces pressed close to the bedrock and guess what? Each is using a reed straw to blow away the finer material away from bedrock where placer gold flakes and small nuggets are sitting. After a bit of research I found out that this technique was quite common among old timers working dry placer bedrock and is still in use today by contemporary small-scale miners at the same New Mexico location.

(Historic dry gold placers lie on the east side of Caballo Lake, New Mexico.)

On the wet placer front, I've seen this technique used a number of times but not as a matter of course. I do know that there are some very ingenious adaptations of the straw and surgical tubing approach. Some employ hand pumps to suck small amounts of gold-bearing material from small cracks and crevices and with some your mouth provides suction. In the latter case the material is drawn up by mouth-generated suction. However, the gold-bearing material is not drawn into your mouth but deposited into a plastic bottle or reservoir. In fact, one popular gold panner/crevicer has created his own version of this mouth suction device that he sells via YouTube.

Even that plastic turkey baster lying at rest in your kitchen drawer can be employed as a low-water bedrock gold suction device. It can function in reverse as well (just like a straw or tubing) if you draw water into it and then expel it over light material, exposing any gold that was hiding under the silt or fine gravel or ensconced in a crack or crevice. Conversely, you can draw small amounts of fine auriferous material into the basting tube and then dump it into a gold pan or bucket.

Johnny on the Spot

OK, so none of this is rocket science and most of you reading this are familiar with various types of gold suction devices whether they're retailed, DIY'd, or pulled from the utensil drawer in your kitchen. In essence, what you want to consider here is that the gold potential of low-water bedrock conditions can be exploited by any number of means. Once again, whatever

 (Even a humble turkey baster can be a gold suction device.)

The idea here is to get your butt out the door anytime stream or wash gold conditions improve significantly. This is what the locals do. When the California Motherlode's streams flood significantly and carry and tumble lots of new gold into place or uncover the same, they are Johnny on the spot. Ditto for the current low-water bedrock conditions that exist in California's gold-bearing streams right now. I can tell you from personal experience over the course of three and a half decades that these sorts of gold recovery conditions don't come around often.

So guess what? You snooze, you lose.

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, The trouble I've got is that the water is really low, but too much snow to get there. I need the snow to melt, but then the water will other words, I'm screwed! I tried to get up there Saturday, but can't even get close. Gary

  2. That surely is a quandary Gary! Best, J.R.

  3. JR, one thing I found strange when we went to Australia a few year turkey basters!! Several stores I asked at had no idea what I was talking about. When I asked why, they said "no turkeys in Australia." I was surprised about that.My wife uses one for roasts and things other than just turkeys, but we went to quite a few stores without any luck. In fact it become sort of a quest to find one! And yes, i was looking for one to use as a crevice sucker. We didn't find any gold anyway.......

  4. Gotta love those Aussies! J.R.


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