Check Those Holes (Part 1)

In this post I'm giving you a little tip that could make the difference between a so-so day and a great one. What I'm about to talk about ain't rocket science and some of you are already making good use of this practice. For those of you who aren't...well, listen up.

 Skimming and "Skimmers"

I've talked about small-scale gold miners in the past who I call "skimmers." These are those individuals who rarely dig deep when sampling or mining but instead tend to skim surface gravels in their search for the elusive yellow metal. Yes, there are rare occasions when skimming works out OK in terms of gold recovery but those times are rare indeed. In my 40 years doing this gold mining thing the only places where I found skimming to be profitable were in certain desert or dry placer locations. Even in those, skimming isn't your best bet typically. But in case you didn't already know it, Ma Nature does strange things with desert gold sometimes. However, in wet placer locations where running water is the typical form of stream hydrology skimming is virtually worthless. Sure, you can find color this way but it won't be much and it won't be big. Using skimming as a sampling method is fine since any surface showings only indicate the "goodies" that may lie deeper down beneath your shovel. So when in doubt dig deep, dig as deep as is humanly possible...especially if shallow bedrock exists in the area you're prospecting or working. Remember all gold is heavy and dense and the bigger stuff is heavier than the smaller stuff. Wow! What a concept, huh?

You Gotta Do It!

But the real topic of this post isn't about's about checking those holes you DO dig. And those include those you dig while crevicing or sniping...above or below water, or in desert placers as well. In fact, I don't care what sort of material you're moving to open and deepen that hole you're digging. Periodically stop what you're doing and check that puppy. Check it how, you ask? Well, the obvious answer is by sample pans as you move ever downward in that hole. If it's a bedrock pothole, crack, crevice, etc. then you MUST clean it out in its entirety. I don't care how hard or difficult that may be, you gotta do it! The good stuff is going to be at or very near the bottom of that hole you're working on. The coarse pieces, the small or medium or large nuggets, and even nice pockets of flakes and fines. OK, checking things with sample pans is all fine and well, and can tell the story to a great degree. But I have a better way, so pay attention.

(Dig it deep...a likely hole in a dry placer on one of my excursions.)

The Better Way

The better way will require a good gold metal detector equipped with a small, "nugget" coil or, alternately, a metal "pin pointer" like those used by coin hunters. Or both if you really want to make this work to its best potential. What detector or pin pointer you use makes no difference as long as they aren't "cheapies." The "you get what you pay for" adage should guide you in this regard. Cheap shit usually produces cheap results and good gear does exactly the opposite in most instances. I use one of my Fisher "Gold Bugs" (the GB 2 or the GB "Pro"), but Garrett, Whites, Minelab and other companies make excellent gold machines as well. You can also purchase good pin pointers from these folks also. You don't have to have the very best machine or pin pointer, only the very best you can afford. There is a difference, you know? Now some of you are thinking that if you're doing sampling pans periodically what's the need for this electronic gear? Here are a few reasons:

1) Desert or dry placers are gonna make your sample panning efforts problematic. Although some hard-core desert rats claim to be "expert" dry panners, dry panning is notoriously inefficient. Plus, it's very difficult to spot smaller pieces of gold (even coarse stuff) in the dusty concentrates of a dry pan. Trust me on that. Water is still needed to really do things right.

2) Panning alone doesn't always account for the sides of that hole or pieces of gold that slip off the sides to plummet into the water at the bottom of your hole (wet placers) or that get covered up by desert dust and dirt when they do the same in dry placers. Additionally, panning may miss the other metal indicators (lead, iron, oxidized particles, etc.) that can tell you that you're on the right path.

3) A good detector with a small coil and/or a pin pointer WILL pick up any metallic targets such as gold, iron, lead, etc. (even very small ones) at the bottom of that hole as well as along its sides.

(One of my two Fisher's...the Gold Bug "Pro" with nugget coil. [Image courtesy of Alaska Mining and Diving Supply])

The "Cat's Meow"

Getting the picture, are you? I can't tell you how many times I've seen other miners in the field leave a hole they were digging because they were too tired or too damn lazy to continue, or because they thought it was empty of goodies. Guess what? Then someone else comes along who's got their mining act together, digs deeper in that very same hole, and hits something good. Hell, I've been on the golden end of this stick as well as the shitty end in my day. One of the most embarrassing days I ever had mining was in California back in the 1980s when I left a hole because I wasn't getting what I wanted and thought it was empty, only to have someone else come along, dig another six inches to a foot, and turn up two nice nuggets. Painfully true. I was pissed off and red-faced because I thought I was the cat's meow at the time due to the fact I had six or seven years of prospecting and mining experience behind me. Good ego check there. To carry this chain of thought along a bit further be mindful of this. Not long ago one member of the Keene Engineering family used this detector/pin pointer method to check out a water-filled hole along the North Yuba River his buddy had just abandoned and turned up a multi-gram nugget!

 (If you want to be the cat's meow check that hole again and again.)

So don't do as I did...follow the precepts I'm about to teach you.


(c) Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. I just discovered you website today and I wish I would of done so when you first started it! So much information and I see it's closing down very soon so I have to hurry and print as much as I can. Been gold prospecting since March 98'. Started out at Goler Gulch and had a really good old mentor. Spent years there and now work closer to home because of the high cost of gas (my 94' Jeep Cherokee gets 15mpg). I've had many "gold" detectors over the years and now my best (for the money) is a White's TDI SL. Got tired of the ol' black sand problem. I hope to meet you one of these days if you ever come back to the LA area. I live in Simi Valley. Will be getting your book soon as such good advice even for a 63 y.o. guy like me!

  2. Thank you for the good words and support Randy! I hope I can get out your way sometime. Hang tough out there.


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