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How to Magnet Fish: A guide to attracting junk and cleaning up local waterways

How to Magnet Fish: A guide to attracting junk and cleaning up local waterways
September 29, 2021 Jacob Carah

Twenty bicycles, miles of fishing line, antique cans, knives and sparkplugs – these are just some of the many things that Detroit magnet fisher Jason Vanderwal and his family have fished out of the waters.

“We have found all sorts of things in the Detroit River, 14 guns, all sorts of cutlery, horseshoes and even three large ngangas,” Vanderwal said.

Magnet fishing is a simple sport, utilizing magnets and tension lines to dredge up junk and sometimes priceless items from rivers, lakes and streams. YouTube is rife with channels from enthusiasts and treasure hunters showcasing tips, tricks, best practices and incredible finds.

“I really like the environmental aspect of cleaning up rivers,” Vanderwal said, adding that the big draw is “the mystery and discovery of what you find.”

“There is this treasure-hunting appeal, but it’s only part of the experience,” he said. “You don’t really find a lot of treasure on every go, but with some patience and luck you will discover something cool, or something weird like an old antique that will bring you back for more.”

Gear to get started

All someone needs to get started is a magnet, rope, gloves and a scraper, most of which you can get from any hardware store.

The type of magnets most common for dredging and fishing are neodymium magnets, or permanent magnets. Many industry guides and companies recommend a magnet with a pulling force of N42 for fishing.

Basic starter kits are available online for purchase with prices starting at around $30, according to Vanderwal.

Magnet fishing haul (Photo Credit: Natasha Blakely)

Where to fish and what to do with your catch

Waterways by areas with lots of foot traffic are among the places to go magnet fishing, like fishing piers, docks and near bridges.

Most of what Vanderwal and his family pull from the river goes to local scrappers. Most cities have bulk waste drop-off sites to take scrap and other debris. The city of Detroit has three waste drop-off locations that are free to residents. Many metropolitan trash removal services can be contacted for larger items as well.

“It’s really important to people in this community of fishers that you clean up after yourself and don’t leave trash sitting on the side of the riverbanks,” Vanderwal said. “This is all about making our water cleaner and to have fun.”

If there is a question about whether it is okay to fish in a particular location or regarding an item you pull up, it’s best to inquire with the Department of Natural Resources or local authorities.

“Oftentimes we are greeted in most areas with curiosity or simply folks are happy we are cleaning up some junk out of the river,” Vanderwal said.

Safety first

Being safe and aware of your surroundings is important when magnet fishing.

“The magnets themselves are heavy, and you need to be careful of your surroundings when you make your casts as you don’t want to hit anyone,” Vanderwal said.

Keep in mind a few safety reminders:

  • Cast from a surface level.
  • Be careful of large objects around you that the magnet could attach to.
  • Be careful when you pull up your rope – you don’t want your fingers to get caught between the magnet and bigger items, or on anything sharp.
  • Use gloves when handling items you pull up with your magnet.

For more information, to see Jason and his family in action and for group fishing dates, visit Motor City Magnet Fishers on Youtube or Facebook.


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Plastic debris is getting into the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and our food


Featured image: Magnet fishing (Photo Credit: Natasha Blakely)

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