The Art and Science of Finding Gold Nuggets (Part 3)

In my view, there is both art and science in the finding of placer gold nuggets. Never thought of it this way before? Then read on.

POINT 3: Go where nuggets have been found before.

My standard advice to gold prospecting and mining newbies or greenhorns when they ask where they can find gold is simply, "Go where gold's been found before." This is a venerable bit of advice that's been around for quite a while. In fact, I was told the same thing when I first asked this question of a gold mining old timer some 35 years ago.

This same advice applies to finding gold nuggets. If you're committed to finding and recovering gold nuggets then you need to haul your rear end to gold districts, areas, or locations that have produced nuggets in the past and that are part of the historical record in that regard. You see, contrary to what many newcomers think, no two gold locations are alike (wet or dry). Some produce lots of coarse gold and nuggets while others produce only fine gold (Idaho's Snake River placers) and perhaps a few flakes. Other locations can present you with the opportunity to recover the entire spectrum of placer gold: fines, flakes, "chunkers," and nuggets (California's Salmon, American, and Yuba River watersheds).

(These miner's hands show the work it took to pull this large nugget.)

So you see, it's a waste of your valuable prospecting and mining time to try and coax nuggets from districts or locations noted only for fine gold (and quite a few of those exist by the way). To break this principle down even farther, some gold locations will produce only small placer nuggets (under a gram or two) while others are noted for cranking out the "big boys." Others, as I've already pointed out, will present you with a full range of nugget recovery possibilities. Whatever your fancy, "Nuggets is nuggets."

Powerful Information

Finding nuggets is not just a question of going where others have found them, however. You should also have an idea of how and where (specifically) they were found at the location or gold district you're interested in. Here's that awful word again: "research." Let me digress here for a moment. I can't tell you how many gold prospectors and miners I've known over the years who thought they were the veritable cat's meow (or to put it bluntly, thought their shit didn't stink when it came to all things mining). These were experienced, knowledgeable people who could probably outwork any poor coolie swinging a pick and shovel in the worst 3rd World hellhole. Yet these very same individuals could never be bothered to "waste their time" doing a bit of research homework on the front end to learn all they could about an area before prospecting or working it for the first time. Sort of sad, don't ya think?

This idea of knowing what's what when going for nuggets can prove invaluable to you. All sorts of potential advantages can be gained this way. Knowing that nuggets were recovered at a specific location is one thing, but knowing that most of them were found in specific contexts as well is even more powerful information. If you know ahead of time that nuggets in your particular location were found primarily sandwiched between clay layers, mostly upstream as opposed to downstream, hiding under large obstructions, only on bedrock, or associated strictly with pockets or paystreaks then your chances of finding those very same nuggets is much greater than those of some stumble bum who's hoping to get nugget lucky by stabbing in the dark.

Getting the picture here? Gold mining and prospecting require an artist's heart and a scientist's focus. Use both to your advantage if you want to show off those nuggets to your friends and family.

Good luck out there.

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

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Research is the key. Do your homework so you don't waste time on a wild goose chase.
    Rattlesnake Jim

  2. I've been trying to get this same message across for years now Jim. Thanks for adding your perspective and emphasis. J.R.


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