The Fundamentals to Success as a Small-Scale Gold Miner (Part 1)

 (Start with the fundamentals.)

There are many facets to becoming a successful placer gold miner, whether you're a newcomer to mining or a veteran. But in my opinion there are a number of fundamentals that supersede all other factors in this regard. Let's take a look at these, one-by-one.

1. Know the Location or Area You're Dealing With

I've never understood how folks can go to a specific gold area or location without knowing much, if anything, about those locations or areas. It's a form of field "blindness" where you just toss the dice and hope they come up in your favor. Luck is always a factor in gold mining but the guys and gals who consistently do well out there know the locations or areas they're dealing with. This knowledge takes shape using the following parameters:
  • What sort of deposits (elluvial, alluvial, lode, etc.) the area or location is noted for;
  • What forms (coarse gold, nuggets, fines, flakes, ore bodies, etc.) the gold is primarily found in;
  • Where the gold is usually found (paystreaks, pockets, on bedrock, in benches or gravel bars, hillsides or terraces, and so on);
  • What types of natural indicators exist pointing the way to the gold (natural formations, clay layers, stream or wash configuration, presence of unnatural heavies like lead, iron artifacts, etc.); and
  • How much placer or lode gold a given area was historically documented as producing.
This list is by no means all-inclusive but it does provide a general idea of what you should be looking for and at. Essentially it all comes down to this: the more you know about a location or area the greater your chances of finding and recovering the gold it contains. Simple, right? Granted, the more you prospect or work a given spot the more you'll learn about it but why not start out on the right foot to begin with? That's all I'm saying here.

(Each gold area or location has its unique characteristics from a gold recovery standpoint.)

2) Doing Your Homework

The most successful recreational miners and treasure hunters have one thing in common. They understand how important proper research is to the potential success of their endeavors. The late Mel Fisher, treasure hunter extraordinaire, was a classic example. He would have never located the main wreck site of the treasure galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha and its fabulous and historic treasure of gold, silver, and emeralds without the hard work performed by associates who spent countless hours researching the Spanish maritime archives in Madrid. That's what made the difference for Mel, his family, and his diving crew.

 (One small example of Mel Fisher's Atocha Treasure.)

I know we all have a certain dislike for homework. It's a vestige of our school days where we hated the thought of spending our "free" time reading books or passages, struggling over math equations, or writing papers of one sort or another. But research (i.e., doing your homework) is absolutely fundamental to mining (and treasure hunting) success. Good research can and will answer the questions posed in the list above and perhaps reveal important clues that you can follow to locate and recover the gold you seek in a specific location or area. By combing historical accounts of mining operations and districts, or reading first-person narratives written by miners of old, or examining past geological bulletins or gold mining operations and production reports (to name but a few), you may gain very important info that could lead you to hidden paystreaks, pockets, or perhaps even virgin ground itself. In the"old days" when I first started out in small-scale gold mining there was no internet. No easy access to salient information. I can't tell you how many hours I spent poring through the musty stacks of books in public or university libraries searching for answers to the historical and geological questions I had. But this patient research lead me to finding at least one area of untouched ground (albeit small in size and in gold) and it gave me a distinct edge when it came to working better-known areas as well. So don't tell me you can't do any "homework" in this regard or don't have time for it when the internet is chock full of the info you seek. If you do tell me you don't have time for proper research you're just one of those lazy asses out there who thinks you're gonna strike it rich with minimal effort. Yep. Like it or not, I believe in calling a spade a spade.

(A placer gold distribution map from Chinese gold fields. At the very minimum you should know this type of info in relation to where you want to mine.)

3) Tools and Equipment

Proper tools and equipment are fundamental to success in all sorts of endeavors, from carpentry to car repairs. Gold mining is no different. Choosing the right tools and equipment for the task at hand can make the difference between recovering good gold values in a shorter period of time with less overall labor involved, or driving home after a long day mining with an aching back, chewed-up hands, and only a few microdots of flour gold in your sample vial as reward for all your efforts. Use the right tool for the job to get that gold whether it's a simple gold pan, a sluice box, a dry washer, a suction dredge, trommel, highbanker, or something you've jury rigged. Each location dictates what should work best for you in terms of equipment. If you can't see that then you're either a greenhorn to gold mining or...God forgive're too damn dense to get the message. The greenhorn thing is understandable since we've all been there at one time or another. The second part of that equation is not OK for any number of reasons and usually, despite what I said, stupidity is not the cause. It's laziness or a distinct lack of awareness on your part. Once again I must utter a word of caution here. If you're a newcomer to small-scale gold mining keep it simple. Don't overload yourself with expensive gear you don't know how to operate properly. Learn the ropes first and then you can call yourself "Dry Washer Dan" on your YouTube videos. (I can't tell you how much I hate some of those hokey ass names self-proclaimed mining "experts" give themselves online. But that's my cross to bear in this life, right?)

(Use the right tool for the job wherever you're working.)

There's more to come in this vein (pun intended as always), so stay tuned.

(c)  Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at