Slim Pickings on the Gulf Coast

(Tools of the trade.)

As the title of this post suggests, my beach hunting trip to the Texas Gulf Coast wasn't as successful as I had hoped on the front end. Has the old timer (me, that is) lost his touch after all these years? Read on to find out.

 Setting the Stage

Trust me that it's no tall tall tale when I say I made a killing on Southern California beaches all through the 1980s. My best year was 1983 when I recovered over $10,000.00 worth of gold and silver jewelry, and coins (both clad and old silver). One of my best finds that year was a man's 14kt gold ring with a 1.25 carat diamond mounted in it. Scores of other gold necklaces, bracelets, wedding bands, and class rings went into my pouch in '83. The oldest beach coin that year? A 1904S Barber quarter which had high numismatic value and was sold at a coin auction. In the years prior to 1983 and after, I never quite hit that high point but still raked in beach gold and silver to the tune of thousands of dollars. Am I bragging here? No, just setting the stage.

Ice Water

In the distant past I've hunted California beaches extensively and North and South Carolina beaches as well. But I'd never hunted the Gulf Coast. So, in early February I decided to head for warmer weather and the barrier islands of South Texas. The trip was twofold: 1) To get some good R&R on my first post-retirement trip, and 2) to finally do some beach hunting after a 20-plus year hiatus. You see, moving to New Mexico in 1991 pretty much put the kibosh on beach hunting for me. So on the 26th of February I headed south to Port Aransas, Texas (Mustang Island) with my brand new Garrett All Terrain (AT) Pro, a sturdy sand scoop, and lots of anticipation. The upshot? From the R&R standpoint the 14-day trip was a complete success. From a beach hunting standpoint it was a big disappointment. I'll give it to you in different was the hardest and lousiest beach hunting I've ever done! Sure, I recovered quite a few coins (all modern or clad) but except for one man's 10k gold ring, the real goodies eluded me. For someone used to success in beach hunting Mustang Island was a bucket of ice water in the face. Here's why:

(A few of the clads I recovered...note the heavy encrustation on some.)

(My best and only truly good find...10k man's gold ring with a nice garnet and two small 
 flanking diamonds.)

1. Too Much Overburden

Sound familiar does it? Just as in gold mining overburden is your greatest enemy in beach hunting. Recently lost items set aside, most of the gold and silver will be deep. Mustang Island beaches are broad swaths of extremely fine sand whose true depth goes into the tens of feet (if not much deeper than that) with no immediate bedrock or false bedrock (like Southern California's cliffs and bluffs provide) to act as a stopping point. Anything heavy like gold will not remain close to the surface of the sand for very long.

(Sand, sand, and more sand.)

(Note the beach road where you can access the beaches at various points.)

2. Limited Lost Items Potential

The beaches in and around Port Aransas were not heavily used at the time of year I arrived. In fact, the greatest majority of the people I saw or talked to on Mustang Island beaches were retirees who aren't shaking out beach towels, running and jumping on the beach, or surfing or swimming. That means little is being lost in terms of jewelry. Contrast this to Southern California where I lived for many years. There is activity all year round on SoCal beaches...surfers, boogie boarders, swimmers, kayakers, and lots of folks simply laying out or sunbathing on warmer days which can and do occur in the winter. In order to find lots of beach goodies there have to be lots of people losing those goodies. It's a very simple equation.

(Limited beach activity.)

3. Small Wave Action and Tidal Surges

Gulf waters are much different than the Pacific or the Atlantic. They are much tamer by comparison with "washing machine" waves of 1-3 feet ruling the day on Mustang Island. Neither the wave action nor the tides on Mustang had any significant effect on the beach configuration while I was there. In other words, virtually no "mixing" or stripping took place. Granted, Mustang Island has experienced some vicious storms and hurricane effects over the years and would probably prove exceptional beach hunting right after an event like that. But as it stands now, those beaches will beat you to death for little return. Trust me, I know.

 (Not much in the way of waves or tidal surges.)

4. Trash, Trash, and More Trash

I have to say that Mustang Island beaches are some of the trashiest I've ever hunted. Not from a surface standpoint but in terms of what lies buried just below the sand's surface. Two of the biggest trash offenders are pull tabs and beer bottle caps. There's also a lot of iron trash on Mustang. You can pretty much tell an iron signal by sound if you've been detecting for a while, but those bottle caps and pull tabs can fool you because they have the sound of a good target and will most often read as good targets on a detector's visual display indicator (VDI). Those of you who know understand that pull tabs will often read (visually) or sound like jewelry. So as a beach hunter you always want to err on the side of caution and dig those targets. So I ended up digging up lots of pull tabs and bottle caps. With 20/20 hindsight a smaller search coil would have helped.

(Boardwalk to the beach.)

 (One of the locals.)

The upshot? I wouldn't head back to the Gulf Coast again thinking in terms of beach hunting. However, Port Aransas was pretty cool and the food there is EXCELLENT! If you ever head down that way eat at the La Playa where you can order up a tres mariscos enchiladas platter that will literally knock your socks off. One enchilada contains shrimp, another crawfish, and the third is stuffed with crab meat. Each enchilada has it's own separate sauce and with rice and black beans that meal was one of the best I've had in years...anywhere, anytime. I can't say enough good about it.

So that's the inside poop. Be kind to one another out there, OK?

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Liked the the beach hunting post. It would be nice to see a little treasure hunting every now and then is gold no matter what form or shape.Sometimes swinging the detector is a whole lot easier than shoveling into my drywasher.The view at the beach is ALWAYS better than the desert.Glad you had a good time.

  2. I agree...mining and treasure hunting are pretty much the's the context and gear that change things.

  3. JR, sorry to hear that, but you can never know unless you try. At least now you know. Disappointing? Sure, but if it was an escape from day to day pressures, or an adventure at all, it was a success. On our one and only big trip to Australia a few years ago, I brought a metal detector and hit the beach also....nothing at all. Well, I did find an odd rock that cleaned up to be a chunk of melted aluminum......damn. Didn't find any gold either in the panning "hot spot". Still, we had a good time and an adventure we will never forget. Like they say "nothing ventured, nothing gained". Next time will be different! Ever been to Hawaii?? Take your bride and hit that beach!

  4. It's all good Gary. Yes, I've been to Hawaii but never hunted there.


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