Magnet Fishing: An Attractive New Hobby
Jul 24, 2020 | 7 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

We’ve covered some unusual styles of fishing in the past: bowfishing, slow pitch jigging – even Catfish noodling! However strange they may seem, they’re all just ways of catching dinner. Magnet fishing is… different. While other anglers are reeling in a meal or landing exotic fish, magnet fishers are quite literally hauling up trophies.

A woman throwing a magnet into a river attached to a rope

How do you fish with magnets? Why is it becoming so popular? And what are people trying to find? Today, we’ll answer all the questions you never knew you had about magnet fishing. Fair warning, you may be drawn to it yourself!

What is Magnet Fishing?

Magnet fishing is exactly what it sounds like: fishing, with magnets. Shocking, we know, but there really isn’t much more to it than that. You tie a rope onto a magnet and throw it in the water. If you’re lucky, it will stick to something that you can haul out and take home.

Have you ever dropped your keys down a drain as you got out of your car? Ever lost your favorite knife over the side of the boat while fishing? Plenty of people have, and that’s probably how magnet fishing got started. Since then it’s developed into a fully-fledged hobby that’s part environmentalism, part treasure hunting.

So, why do people do it? As we mentioned, part of the appeal is ecological. You can remove a ton of junk from the water, cleaning up your local river or making a lake safer to swim in. You can also enjoy the thrill of fishing without hurting any fish. The main draw, though, is the constant possibility of finding sunken treasure.

What Can I Catch?

As you can imagine, there are endless things you could catch while magnet fishing. Anything and everything that contains iron is within your reach, from nuts and bolts to signposts, bicycles, tools, and even the angling classic – an old boot.

A fisherman’s classic catch! 😂 from r/magnetfishing

One of the most exciting things to find stuck to your magnet is a safe. In fact, you’d be surprised just how often people find old safes in rivers. Most of the time, they’re empty, probably dumped after a robbery. However, every once in a while, some lucky lodestoner stumbles across a real life treasure chest!

Then there’s the holy grail of magnet fishing: guns. Lots and lots of guns show up in rivers and canals, especially in Europe, which is apparently still littered with WWII weaponry. Revolvers are sometimes in full working order, although you should probably call the police if you find a modern weapon – there could be a good reason somebody threw it in a canal!

Magnet Fishing Gear

Feel like giving magnet fishing a try? One of the great things about it is that you don’t need much equipment to get started. An entry-level magnet fishing kit can cost as little as 50 bucks, so it really is something that anybody can try.

Magnet

A magnet used for magnet fishing

The first thing you’ll need is a big ol’ magnet! More technically, you’ll want a neodymium fishing magnet. There are two main types: one-sided and two-sided. Two-sided magnets are useful for scanning the bottom, as things stick to both sides. One-sided magnets latch on much more firmly, though, making better for the actual heavy lifting. Our advice? Go with a basic one-sider to start with, then branch out if you want to.

Fishing magnets come in various strengths, ranging from around 200 to well over 1,000 pounds of pulling force. If that sounds like a lot, bear in mind that it’s measured under ideal conditions, while attached to a flat sheet of steel. Because of this, most magnet fishers recommend 500 pounds minimum.

Rope

A red rope coming out of the water

Got your magnet? The next thing you need is a length of hardy rope. Synthetic materials like nylon are best, because they don’t rot. Some nylon ropes are also dry-treated, so they don’t get heavy when wet. Beyond that, you don’t need anything high-tech. A simple 50 feet or so of good-quality climbing rope should do, depending on where you’re fishing.

Gloves

A fishing magnet attached to thick rope, with a set of work gloves

Magnet fishing involves man-handling a lot of rusty metal, so gloves are pretty much compulsory. Again, no need for anything expensive. Normal work gloves like you’d buy in a hardware store are fine. Don’t go for anything too bulky, though, or you won’t be able to feel the magnet when it sticks to something.

Grappling Hook

A folding grappling hook attached to a length of rope with a red and white bobber float

Not essential, but useful. A grappling hook or pole hook is great for pulling up larger finds once they reach the surface. You can tie off your rope to hold your catch in place, then haul it in with the hook. This can also be useful for finds that aren’t solid metal.

Magnet Storage

A styrofoam box with a red and white handle on a wooden table

Understandably, a super-strong magnet can be a difficult thing to store and transport. Get it stuck to your car or your garage door, and you’re going to have a fun time trying to remove it without causing damage. Luckily, a little polystyrene cancels out most of the magnetic pull. Carry that in a normal plastic tackle box or a small cooler to be doubly sure.

Magnet Fishing Tips for Beginners

You’ve got the gear and made your dream catch list, now it’s time to actually get out there! Magnet fishing is pretty straightforward, but there are a few handy tips that can jump-start your iron-finding adventures.

Where to Fish

Source: Ian S., geograph.org.uk (CC-BY-SA/2.0)

You can find metal in pretty much any river or pond where there are people. Bridges, canals, and piers are all popular spots. They see plenty of foot and boat traffic, so there’s a good chance somebody lost their keys, dropped their bait knife, or even crashed their bike into the water. Piers and jetties are also an amazing place to find old fishing lures.

If you want really interesting finds, you’ll need to do some research. Famous historical sites may have already been picked clean by other treasure hunters, but they’re still worth a shot. Old riverside roads and historic harbors can also be goldmines. Lastly, river mouths and spillways will be littered with things that have washed downstream.

A Note on Knots

The most common way to attach your rope to your magnet is with a knot. Some people use carabiner clips for the actual link, but there’s still got to be a knot in there somewhere. The good news is that you don’t need anything nearly as fancy as some of the fishing knots out there.

The two most popular knots for magnet fishing are the figure 8 follow-through and the palomar. They’re both easy to tie after a little practice. Most importantly, neither of these knots can come undone by pulling on them.

Getting Unstuck

Getting your magnet stuck on something is a common problem for beginners. It could be the railing on a bridge, a support column on a pier, or pretty much any other piece of metal that’s fixed in place. Whatever it is, unsticking your magnet is easy if you know how.

The first thing you should do is try to slide the magnet off sideways. That way, you’re not going against its entire pulling power. If that doesn’t work, try pulling it from the side with quick, sharp tugs. If all else fails, rope in a couple of passers by and give it a good old-fashioned tug of war.

Dangers of Magnet Fishing

An old rusted grenade being held in a man's hand

As you can imagine, dragging pieces of rusty metal out of a river comes with a few dangers. The most obvious one is cutting yourself, so wear gloves for bigger finds. To be extra safe, it’s a good idea to get a tetanus booster if you haven’t had one recently.

There’s another, much more dramatic danger to be aware of: unexploded bombs. This is a much more common issue in Europe, where WWII explosives still turn up regularly. Even in the US, it’s possible to come across an old grenade sitting at the bottom of a river. If you do find one, lower it carefully back into the water, tie off your rope, and call the police.

Magnet Fishing Laws

“This sounds fun and all, but is magnet fishing legal?” Well, we wouldn’t be writing about it if it wasn’t, but that’s not to say that you can do it everywhere.

In the UK, it’s illegal to magnet fish in waters managed by the Canal & River Trust. This also covers any stretch of river managed by the trust. In the US, magnet fishing is allowed everywhere except South Carolina, where laws on collecting submerged objects prohibit using any kind of lifting device other than your hands.

Wherever you are, make sure you check with your local authorities before you hit the water. There may be special rules for the specific river or pier you’re fishing from. The last thing you want to do is attract a pair of handcuffs!

A Whole New Way of Fishing

A happy young man holding a pair of bolt cutters found while magnet fishing
Source: Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick, Wikimedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

You could argue that magnet fishing isn’t really fishing. How can it be when you don’t catch any fish? Old bits of metal may never be as exciting as fish. But if nothing’s biting and you feel like a change, why not break out the magnets? You can clean up your local river and maybe pull in some treasure in the process.  Talk about a win-win!

Are you into magnet fishing? What was your best catch? Drop us your stories or ask a question in the comments below!

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Comments (2)
  • Jenny

    Oct 13, 2020

    Hi my husband and I are very new at this “hobby” Just about 4 times out we really enjoy it. but I’m still learning the ropes (pun intended) my husband on the other hand has been doing very well he pulled a nice bike out of the river not bad .but for me I had a question am I supposed to drag the magnets slowly and also can I have hook on at the same time. Thank you

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      Albert

      Oct 13, 2020

      Hi Jenny,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      As they say, slow and steady wins the race. It’s the quick, jerking movements that will dislodge your catch, but your magnet should be fine with most finds as long as you’re pulling it in steadily. If you find that your magnet is coming off, it could be that whatever you’ve found is stuck on something. Try pulling it from a different angle to see if that helps.

      Your hook can also help in this situation but you shouldn’t really need to use it until you reach the surface. Anything that’s too big to pull underwater with a magnet is probably too heavy to haul out of the water with a hook anyway. It’s also much more tricky to remove your hook than your magnet if it gets stuck.

      I hope this helps. Magnet fishing is a great hobby, especially if you can share it with a loved one.

      Happy hunting!

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