Gold in Small Streams, Creeks, and Brooks (Part 1)

Most of my small-scale mining career has been spent placering larger rivers and streams, as well as desert dry washes and terraces. I've done some lode prospecting and mining (if you could call it that) and I've also spent a lesser portion of my time hitting smaller streams and "feeder" creeks. I threw in the term "brook" in the post title for you miners outside the Great American West and Southwest since most brooks tend to be named so the farther east you travel in the United States. That said, let's talk about gold in these smaller wet placers.


Although the basics of gold deposition physics and stream hydrology in smaller gold venues are similar in nature to those governing larger streams and rivers, there can be distinct differences between them. For example, the gold trapping ability of the usual suspects (inside bends, larger obstructions, bedrock, and so on) may be lessened in certain instances and intensified in others. I realize this sounds contradictory, but in truth it's not. How do I know this? Partly through "book larnin'" and mostly through head-on experience on smaller "feeders" in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and yes...old Mexico itself. You'll notice that I've eliminated washes and dry gulches from this discussion. Why? Desert placers are, for the most part, a totally different beast than wet placers although, again, there can be similarities at times.

(A nice little "feeder" in Canada's Yukon Territory.)

Fines Galore

But something just dawned on me regarding dry placering smaller drainages, so allow me to digress a bit here. For quite a few years until I was "forced" out of the immediate environs, I prospected and mined a dry placer district here in New Mexico and once tested a narrow gulch there that was coming down a fairly steep mountainside. Now there were some very slight twists and turns to this rock-packed gulch but it was mostly a straight shot or "chute." This is usually not a good sign in wet placer environments just so's you know (more importantly, you should know why I say it's not a good sign). Anyway, the point I'm attempting to make here is that the narrow gulch in discussion was no more than three-feet wide at any given point. Small even from a creek or brook standpoint. Yet that narrow dry gulch carried heady amounts of fine gold through and through. No nuggets, no pickers. But fines galore. The gold was concentrated like a SOB in that dry "chute" along with riffle-clogging amounts of large-grained, coarse black sand (known locally as "negros"). and I often suspected a small vein or blow out loaded with fine gold particles once fed it higher up. I've always maintained in my gold-fevered brain that if I could have claimed that area and set up a motorized dry washer I could have easily pulled a quarter to three quarters of an ounce a day. Probably more, if I really busted my hump. May not sound like much to those posturing a-holes on the TV reality shows, but it would've been good enough for yours truly in this state where placer mining opportunities are slim pickings, to say the least. I're wondering why I didn't find that vein or fire up that dry washer. Here's the truth. I was on private property...not a claim...just property owned at that time by some rich Texas cattleman. Now hold your horses before waving your finger at me. I had permission to be where I was from the caretaker of the property. But I wasn't allowed to do any "mining" per se. Isn't it always this way when you find something good?

 (I'll take an ounce or two of fine gold over a four or five gram nugget anytime, anywhere.)

Ramshorn vs. Lone Jack

OK, I digressed much more than I intended to there. The idea was to provide an example of how a small stream (or wash/gulch) can be a real go-getter when it comes to the gold...and contrary to the general deposition principles we usually go by. Another, more standard (from a deposition standpoint) example is Ramshorn Creek south of Downieville along California Highway 49 in the Northern Motherlode. Small and sometimes larger-sized nuggets can be found quite frequently in this "feeder" of the North Yuba River if you KNOW what the hell you're doing when it comes to obstructions and bench gravels. Yet, just a few miles farther up the road another "feeder" creek called Lone Jack is absolutely stingy with gold of any size. I know because I've worked both! Ramshorn Creek and Lone Jack Creek are laid out very nicely in terms of what we consider viable or good gold deposition points and both are about the same size in width and depth. Yet one gives up the gold while the other doesn't. Yes, it could be that Lone Jack never got "fed" by veins or Tertiary gravel gold...I really don't know. They are both pretty, nicely laid out creeks but the two are nothing alike from a gold perspective. (Now someone will pipe up and tell me they got an ounce a day out of Lone Jack!) By the way, Ramshorn is probably claimed up or otherwise off limits and I know parts of Lone Jack are on private property (forget the gold aspect and try fishing Lone Jack, and the area where it empties into the North Yuba). So don't go charging out the door from your home in "Suffermento" or the Frisco Bay Area expecting to hit the "big one" in either location. I'm just saying...

 (The creek ain't far away.)

(Somewhere in the California Motherlode Region.)

I Ain't Telling

I know of a few small creeks in the Southern Motherlode area (Highway 49 south of Placerville) where hundreds and hundreds of small nuggets (not to mention large flakes and coarse "pickers") were still being recovered in the late 1970s and all through the 1980s by perceptive old timers "sniping" their way along those creeks either by mask and snorkel or via a "snipe tube." (Please!! Don't ask me to reveal these locations to you because I won't. Beg, plead, or cajole all you want. Thirty plus years ago I made a promise to someone I respected very highly and I refuse to break that vow of silence for you or anyone else.) Anyway, those particular creeks have shallow bedrock and that's the rib-eye steak that comes free with those potatoes you're boiling over the campfire in those locations. In fact, most smaller streams, creeks, brooks, etc., will have fairly shallow bedrock beneath them. Remember...I said MOST, but not ALL. Now let's go back to Lone Jack Creek again. It has visible and very shallow bedrock a good part of its length...especially where it empties into the North Yuba (private property, by the way). But like I said before, bedrock or no bedrock, gold is sparse on that section of Lone Jack. Go figure.

In my next post on this topic I'll develop this small stream, creek, brook thing a bit more for you. Be safe until then and don't put up with any shit...from anyone!

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, one of the pictures I sent you not too long ago reminds me of the first picture here. The best spot I have found yet in my area for gold is a crick (Westerner for brook) that at flood stage is 4 feet wide and 8 inches deep. In the summer it's half that. I have had trouble getting enough water to run a sluice. One year, I dammed up the entire crick and funneled it through the sluice at a steep angle and that was barely enough! The biggest pieces of gold I have found there are about the size of this (0)., still, it's better than any place else I've found. I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say about this size crick!
    PS:...........My wife's maiden name was Canfield..... don't hold it against me! Ha!

    1. Your wife is probably a saint putting up with the likes of you Gary...Canfield or not!

    2. Ha! You got that right! I'm not sure why she does it!


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