Think about the last time you snagged your lure underwater while fishing. While trying to get loose, did you ever wonder what you’d caught? While in many cases that answer is “another darn log,” there’s a whole world of interesting objects underwater. For some fishers, uncovering those objects is actually what they’re after! Many have begun an activity called magnet fishing.
What Is Magnet Fishing?
You won’t be catching any fish when you go magnet fishing. Magnet fishing refers to the practice of tying a strong magnet to some rope, tossing it in the water, and pulling in magnetic objects lost under the surface. You might think of your favorite lake or stream as a pristine place, untouched by humankind, but that isn’t the case with most recreational waterways. Boaters drop things, currents push items around, and sometimes things just end up in the water.
Many magnet fishing enthusiasts see what they do as a way to help protect the local environment. By pulling metal out of rivers, lakes, and other waterways, the area is made safer for local wildlife and people who use the area. Depending on the find, some magnet fishers clean up and keep what they catch. Others properly dispose of the items or recycle them.
What Can You Find Magnet Fishing?
Anything magnetic can potentially be pulled out of the water. Primarily these are manufactured objects, but some rocks with iron ore may also stick to your magnet. What you are likely to find depends on where you fish. For instance, if you fish under a railroad bridge, you might pull up some railroad spikes. If you fish near a busy road, you might find things like lug nuts. For many, the point of magnet fishing isn’t to fish for something amazing– it’s to help clean up an area and spend time on the water. They find fun in the idea of pulling up something mysterious that you can’t see from the surface.
That said, there are some cool things underwater. In Milwaukee, one family found a bicycle while magnet fishing. Two Canadian magnet fishers found five rifles in Lake Ontario. Bullets are another common find, especially when you’re in a recreational area that’s open to hunting, but you can also find cannonballs if you’re near a battlefield.
Long-time magnet fishers know that every item has a story, and part of the fun of magnet fishing is wondering about what those stories might be. Why, for instance, did somebody throw a prosthetic hand into a canal? When magnet fishers pulled it up, they could only guess. One magnet fisher, a six-year-old old boy, actually helped bring closure to a cold case crime! He fished up a safe that had been stolen from a neighbor eight years earlier. The safe still contained several sentimental pieces of jewelry that were returned to a very happy original owner.
Safety Precautions While Magnet Fishing
Depending on where you are magnet fishing, you may have some special safety concerns related to the area. For example, if you’re magnet fishing in Europe, you have to be extremely careful due to unexploded WWII ordnance. It’s not uncommon to find unexploded shells or grenades in certain parts of Europe– one magnet fisher found 19 hand grenades in just one magnet fishing trip. While grenades have been found in the US as well, they are much less common here.
However, the biggest danger from your magnet fishing finds isn’t finding a live grenade, it’s getting cut on sharp, slippery metal. When pulling your rope back in, you should wear gloves to protect your hands. Anything that’s been in the water for long will likely be covered in algae or other water plants, and it’s easy to drop or mishandle something that slick. Gloves can help give you traction so that you don’t drop your find back in the water.
You also need to be careful with your magnets. The magnets used for magnet fishing are extremely strong, and it’s easy to pinch your fingers between it and anything it’s attracted to. Most magnet fishers carry their magnets in styrofoam coolers so that the thick walls can keep them isolated– that way they don’t stick to your car or boat and cause paint damage.
Top Locations For Magnet Fishing
In the US, you can go magnet fishing in most public bodies of water. The exception is in protected waterways, and public waterways in South Carolina. South Carolina’s antiquities laws prohibit magnet fishing for the potential damage it can do to underwater archaeological sites, of which South Carolina has many.
The best places to go magnet fishing are places that get a lot of foot traffic, like fishing piers, docks, river walks, or canals. Waterways near historic sites can yield many interesting finds, but be aware of local laws surrounding historic artifacts. (And even if your location doesn’t have these laws, local museums would love to have these items!) Areas underneath bridges and around spillways and dams are also great places to magnet fish.
Once you’ve picked a body of water, think about the best location at that spot. If you’re on a lake, magnet fishing near a boat ramp can yield all kinds of goodies. For rivers, bends downstream of rapidly flowing water can accumulate items, as can the areas under footbridges and around natural snags.
To Wade Or Not To Wade?
Another consideration magnet fishers have to make is where they’ll stand. Many magnet fishers stand on bridges or on the shore, but some do actually use waders to go out further into the water. This is especially common for magnet fishers who are invested in environmental cleanup. Even if you’re not angling for fish, you need to know how to wade safely before you think about going in the water. Wading does have the advantage of maneuverability, but it also means that if you catch something heavy, the risk of falling in the water increases.
Of course, you can also magnet fish from a boat! If the bass and walleye aren’t biting, you can always toss in a magnet and see what comes up.
Magnet Fishing Gear
If this all sounds fun to you and you want to start magnet fishing yourself, don’t think you can get away with just pulling magnets off the fridge! While the gear you need is minimal, it does need to meet certain specifications– otherwise, you won’t be able to pull anything up.
First, the magnet you use needs to have an eyelet so that it can be threaded onto a rope. This can be mounted on top of the magnet or the side, and some magnets will let you switch the location.
It must also be strong. Magnets are given a weight rating by their ability to pull an amount of steel vertically without interference. A 500-pound magnet, then, could hold up a piece of steel weighing 500 pounds. However, because there will be water resistance and sediment on top of underwater items, a 500-pound magnet might not be able to pull out a 500-pound object. For the best odds of success, you should have a magnet that’s at least 500 pounds. The stronger the magnet, the easier it is to bring up your find, and many magnet fishers prefer to have a magnet rated for 1000 pounds or more.
It’s up to you whether or not you want a single-sided or double-sided magnet. Most magnet fishers get along just fine with a single-sided magnet, and those are less expensive. However, if you plan to be trawling river bottoms or magnet fishing from a boat, a double-sided magnet with the eyelet mounted to the side is ideal to avoid snags. Brute Magnetics makes a series of changeable-eyelet double-sided magnets that are some of the best on the market.
Nylon rope is considered the ideal rope for magnet fishing because it is strong and doesn’t have much stretch to it. You might already have the rope you need in your garage or storage closet– tie-down rope, climbing rope, and even paracord is fine. Most rope fishers will have their lines cut anywhere from 30 feet to 100 feet. You don’t have to buy expensive rope for this; basic braided nylon rope will be perfect.
You can either tie the rope directly to the magnet or tie a carabiner to the rope and then clip the magnet to that for a slightly different swivel. It doesn’t make much of a difference, so long as you use a secure knot. The Palomar knot is the best knot for this. (It’s also great for regular fishing and attaching a hook to your line, too!)
Finally, cut-proof gloves are essential for safety. If you buy cut-proof gloves designed for kitchen use, they will give you better manual dexterity than gloves designed for outdoor work. Just make sure that your cut-proof gloves aren’t metal-reinforced– you wouldn’t want the magnet to stick to your glove!
Magnet Fishing Kits
Perhaps the easiest way to start magnet fishing is by buying a kit. The majority of the cost of these kits is the magnet itself, as the more powerful a magnet is, the more expensive it gets. These kits typically come with a magnet, a carrying case, gloves, nylon rope, a carabiner to attach the magnet to the rope, and thread locker for the carabiner. Some kits come with additional accessories, such as a grappling hook or pull hook to help get your catch to shore. The VNDUEEY Premium Complete Magnet Fishing Kit comes in three magnet strengths and has everything you need to get started for $49.95 for the 1000 pound magnet strength.
We hope you enjoyed this look at magnet fishing! Even though it’s not traditional angling, it’s a fun, creative way to help clean up your local waterways, find some hidden treasures, and have a good time with friends and family. You don’t need a license to magnet fish, and anyone can do it.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about