The Beach and Shallow Water Gold Connection

 ("There's gold on them thar beaches!")

I'm taking a short break in my sluice box comparison series to talk to you about another form of gold mining, beach and water hunting for jewelry. In case you didn't know it, years before I started following my first love, small-scale gold mining, I was (and still am) a treasure hunter. Now here's the kicker. I've recovered far more gold in my beach and water hunting days than I ever have gold mining...and that's saying something, truth be told.

Painting a Picture

The argument can be made that gold mining is simply another form of treasure hunting and that's actually a pretty fair statement. Just as I suggest to you that you should be well-rounded and flexible when it comes to your gold mining activities, so should you be in terms of any avenue that brings additional cash to your wallet. Beach and water hunting for gold jewelry can do that in spades if you learn a few basics and apply those lessons accordingly. Let me give you an example. Way back in the fall, winter, and early spring of 1982-1983 the famed El Nino effect was in full force in the Pacific and the West Coast beaches of the United States were pounded hard by a series of powerful storms generating huge waves and very high tidal surges, along with boo-coo wind and rain. In San Diego County where I was living at the time, these storm surges took out beach front properties, undermined loosely consolidated cliffs overlooking the ocean, and stripped thousands of tons of light sandy overburden off beaches in the area, leaving only rocks, cobbles, and exposed or partially exposed bedrock or false bedrock. As small-scale gold miners this latter statement should have piqued your interest immediately. If that very same statement leaves you scratching your head and you can't make the connection here you probably shouldn't be prospecting or mining because, like it or not, you don't know what you're doing. It's as simple as that. However, I believe that 99.9% of you reading this fully understand the significance of what I'm saying about overburden being stripped away, whether that occurs along a gold-bearing stream or on a public beach where, over the years,  hundreds of thousands of not-so-aware beach goers have frolicked wearing gold rings, necklaces, bracelets, and the like. Getting the picture I'm painting here? OK, back to the example I talked about. In one week alone I recovered over $2,000 (USD) worth of gold jewelry from beaches in my area of North San Diego County and my beach gold mining during that five-month season brought me into the five-figure range. Granted, this included silver jewelry and coins (including a 1904S Barber Quarter...a relatively rare coin), but as they's all good. By comparison, I never recovered that much gold in any of the numerous three-month dredging seasons I spent on California's North Yuba River. Other treasure hunters (or beach miners, if you will) during that same period did far better than I, one recovering a $10,000 gold and emerald ladies ring at La Jolla Shores beach and farther north at Monterey, California, another beach hunter turned up a rare $10 gold piece that was sold at auction for $30,000. My best find that same season? A large but gaudy man's 14k gold ring with a 1.25 carat diamond as its centerpiece. The diamond itself was worth $2,500...not a bad score for about 10 minutes of effort. Makes your mouth water just thinking about it, doesn't it?

 (The gold recoveries from beach mining can add up quickly.)

A Kid in a Candy Store

Interestingly enough, metal detectors aren't needed in these sorts of beach conditions if you've been around the small-scale mining thing long enough. A detector can help at times, but if you know what you're doing all you need is a small shovel or a sawed-off garden hoe (my favorite tool of the time), a few crevicing tools to get into tight spots, a classifier, and a bag to put your "goodies" in. Just as placer gold does in a stream, those heavy pieces of jewelry end up on or close to bedrock or under large rocks, or they are packed tightly into crevices or deeper potholes and depressions underlying the beach overburden. Often, only a good pair of eyes is needed to spot the gold. I recovered numerous gold rings and a very heavy 14K gold chain and pendant this way. How? Arriving just as the high tide was beginning to back off and allowing the storm surge waves to strip the cobble off, exposing those items to full view. I felt like a kid in a candy store! Using the lessons learned from my small-scale mining forays, I was able to work those rich sections of beach just like any miner worth his or her salt would work any section of bedrock. The payoff was incredible. It was like having your own nature-driven treasure chest at your feet. All you had to do was pick up the coins and gold and silver jewelry and go about your merry way. Now here's a tip or two for you miners living on or near California beaches. The bedrock along most Southern California beaches is not true bedrock, but a sort of false bedrock composed of a bluish-grey, heavily compacted clay. Sitting atop that false bedrock are larger rocks or boulders, as well as cobbled rocks of various sizes that have been worn and flattened by years of wave action. A tell-tale visual sign that the goodies are near will be clusters or clumps of oxidized iron like nails, spikes, screws, and non-ferrous metals like lead fishing weights and even brass fittings from boats! In placer mining, much the same is true and most of you know that. Perhaps now you're seeing how similar placer gold mining is to beach mining. The deposition and recovery principles are pretty much the same, albeit with different natural dynamics at work.

(Here's a nice handful of gold from an Australian beach.)

Take Heart

Those of you who reside in the interior of California or other states should take heart, despite the fact you're far removed from those ocean beaches. You have swimming holes in rivers, lakes, inland bays, or ponds to work. These too are good producers of gold and silver jewelry and coins. However, you won't recover the sheer volume of goodies that can be expected from a heavily used ocean beach. No, shallow water hunting is more like the hare and the tortoise tale...slow and steady will bring you the gold over time. Water hunting is also farther removed from the mining-like attributes that beach hunting presents under the right conditions. In water hunting, it's all about finding and pinpointing targets by patient searching with your detector. The tools of the trade are also slightly different since a good metal detector (submersible at least to the control housing) is your key piece of gear and a heavy duty, long-handled sand scoop is your main recovery tool. Yes, beach hunting is better in terms of the potential amount of gold and silver that can be recovered, but a single, heavy 10K gold school ring pulled from an old swimming hole can bring you two or three hundred dollars at today's gold scrap prices. That ain't small potatoes, especially when you honestly admit to yourself how many times you've recovered that same dollar amount of gold on daily basis doing your small-scale gold mining thing.

(Basic tools of the trade for shallow water hunters.)

OK, all this said and gold recovery dollar amounts factored in, small-scale mining remains my first love and it always will be. I'd rather mine than work a beach or hunt shallow water any day. But if I have the opportunity to do both and get gold either way, I sure as shit ain't gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. Nor should you.

(P.S. 2015-2016 is supposed to be another big El Nino season. You sourdoughs living near SoCal beaches take note.)

Best to all.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Hello JR, sort of along the same lines...
    I grew up in Southern Nevada near Lake Mead. Back in the 1970's the water level was way down, like it is now. My Dad and I went fishing one day, but had more fun patrolling the now shallow water along the lake shore in the canoe looking for fishing lures. We found enough to fill a tackle box. Most were in fair to good shape and on average they were worth $1-$3 back then. People loose all sorts of things in all sorts of areas.If you keep an eye open, there's no telling what you might find!


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