For over four years now we have been avid magnet fishers and so I figured it was time to write a „master list“ of what you need to get started in this most amazing of hobbies. If you need some credibility feel free to flick through the images below to see a brief history of four years of mud, sweat and tears:
Let me start with the most obvious item and easily the question that comes up most often: What magnet do I need to start magnet fishing?
I’ll get to my recommendation as soon as possible but real quick let me talk about the two kinds of magnet that exist:
„Old“ magnets made from ferrit and „new“ magnets made from rare earth aka neodymium.
Forget all about the old ferrit ones, they are not at all usable for this application as they are several times heavier, bulkier to achieve the same strength. A neodymium magnet can pull several hundred kilograms under perfect conditions in a package so small that it fits in your palm and that’s just what we need for magnetfishing.
So without further ado this is the one I recommend buying:
What you want to look for is the 12cm kind (or 4.75 inches).
The actual seller makes little difference, look for diameter size and price instead.
The reason I say this is simple:
- They are the best / strongest you can find.
- In mud and water you only get a fraction of the strength listed so more is definitely better. Just don’t get it stuck to clean, flat metal surfaces or you’ll bring out the prybar trying to get it off.
- They are not too expensive, many sellers list magnets upwards of 100€ that are no better or worse than the 50-60€ kind.
- Anything under 7.5cm / ~150kg of pull does not work at all in water as they are too light to even dig into the muddy ground.
- They can still be lifted, thrown and tossed by anyone – even kids but definitely make sure to supervise this whole hobby as it’s dangerous if unsupervised.
Over time we have tested several kinds, strengths and form factors from various suppliers and always come back to this one in the end.
Speaking of several: Expect to get about a season out of each magnet before they are pretty rusted and lose (just some) of their strength – even if you keep them clean. That is not too bad though, you can still use the magnets for all kinds of fun things after you stop fishing with them.
And another note: I do not recommend the magnets that have the eyelid mounted to the side:
They aren’t necessarily bad and it is true that they slide better over the ground – but once they grab something the pull direction puts them in a position where the magnet can not use it’s full strength. The reason for that is simple: When we pry magnets off of flat metal surfaces like safe doors we do exactly that: Slide them off to the side which is several times easier than trying to lift them up.
So to summarize: I recommend you get the strongest kind of magnet, you’ll thank yourself the moment you catch something heavy like a bike, shopping cart or a safe that will often times stay in the water with any other kind of magnet – and drive you mad knowing there’s something in the dark that you can’t get out.
We already have a magnet, what do we need the hook for?
Well, it actually makes your life a lot easier with things like bikes and shopping carts where the magnet has a hard time sticking to once it reaches the surface. Bikes are round and shopping carts half metal, half rust and with both even the strong, multi-hundred kilogram magnets can and will struggle.
So the idea here is to use the magnet to find things, pull them right below the surface and then attach the grappling hook to pull things up. If you ever lost a heavy bike right before it rose high enough to grab onto you’ll know how much that sucks.
The good thing is that the actual hook can be pretty cheap, we use a boating anchor from the local hardware store that was like 15 bucks.
Or you can make your own from rebar that you’ll inevitably find while magnet fishing.
For rope we have made the absolute best experiences with sailing rope from our local hardware store – a little less than a finger’s diamater. Something that is thick enough to pull on without hurting your fingers but at the same time not so thick that it adds too much weight and you can’t throw it anymore.
Definitely do not get paracord, it stretches too much especially when wet and just does not work for this application.
As for the length we have made good experiences with 20m (65ft) long rope that is just about long enough for high bridges and the average throw distance of a grown adult. Too little and you might not reach the water on high bridges, too much and you’ll just throw too far to where nothing could really reach. 20m is a good middle ground that you hardly ever notice.
Finding the good spots
Bridges, bridges, Bridgets.
Seriously though: Bridges is where it’s at, especially the ones where it’s easy to stop with a car and toss something in. Foot traffic where people walk up and throw bikes in (why they keep doing that we have no idea but we are getting towards 300 bikes found) – all those bridges over waterways that many cities have are great.
To a lesser degree you can find cool stuff in many places that have direct access to water, the two main ones are fishing spots (knives, pliers, lures etc.) and boat landing spots / piers.
Many cities also have lakes and nowadays with all the electric scooters, bikes and rampant theft of both and many other things you can expect to find cool stuff if you just stick to it long enough.
The brits with their canal systems have some pretty cool spots almost everywhere and in theory we have lots of small ponds where you could potentially find war memorabilia (and also the boom stuff that I’d like to avoid!). Speaking of which:
You’ll have to appreciate that magnet fishing can be dangerous. In Germany you have lots of discarded ammunition in the waters, especially in the town of Hamburg where we made most of our favorite finds. We have been lucky, over the course of three years we found just a handful of hand guns and rifles but never anything explosive – but it’s a danger to keep in mind. This should be less of a problem in other places of the world but it’s certainly something to keep in mind in places like Germany, france and Poland.
You never know what’s in the water so we like to fish from the top of bridges not just for the cool finds but also because it gives you a modicum of „safe distance“ that may or may not give you enough time to figure out „hey, I should probably not pull this up further and alert the authorities“.
That being said that is just one danger, the other two main ones are:
- Boats and kayaks going through a bridge while you are on top throwing heavy magnets into the water. This can kill people. We prevent that by staying on either side of the bridge and calling out approaching boat traffic. This has worked perfectly but obviously a bit hard to do if you were to go fishing alone.
- The magnets sticking to something when you don’t expect it. Even knowing that metal railings are metal and magnetic by nature we still nearly pinched our fingers between railing and metal several times while holding it in hand and looking over to see what the other was dragging out. So be aware of this and always place the magnet down before you do something else, that has since prevented any near-pain-experiences for us.
Another (big one) is simply all that rusty, pointy metal. It should go without saying to get a tetanus shot and simply not be an idiot around pointy things – which is why it’s a good idea to keep your kids supervised and teach them how to exist around mild but manageable danger. I always feel like there’s a middle ground where safety concerns are useful and viable and a tipping point where you reach either the opposite of „meh, parents and their safety stuff“ or worse even instill the fear of doing anything.
Little rant aside: That pointy, rusty stuff can poke or slice you if you aren’t careful and that can be quite nasty so better do your due dilligence. That being said we have managed to survive this dangerous hobby without any kind of injuries for four years and neither of us has much of a safety Sally inside of us.
This is a pretty quick overview on our „attack plan“ whenever we roll up to a bridge.
- Get out, open trunk, pull out tool box.
- Optional: Set up camera
- Tie one end of the rope to a railing. Do a double not because we have lost magnets both by not tying them on at all (where did my rope go?) and also by the knot loosening up (where did my rope go?? I tied it on didn’t I??)
- Take other end of the rope, hopefully this is the one with the magnet on it. Check the tightness of the knot every now and then for good measure.
- Check for obstacles like tree branches or people inexplicably spending their free time in kayaks. If you hit them that creates a lot of paperwork, death and pain and grief and all those little annoyances so best avoid killing other people with your hobby.
- Throw. Make an effort to look as cool as possible but be prepared to look like an idiot regardless. Yell something like „Valhalla here I come!“ or „Victory or Death!“ to sufficiently underline the importance of your action.
- Admire the beauty of your throw and listen to the relaxing sound of metal hitting water. Ideally you did not hit anything else so feel good about doing something right for once.
- Slowly pull the magnet back in a sort of wiggle-pull-motion that gives it time to drag over the ground and latch onto your next best find. Rejoice when you feel resistance in the rope.
- Pull. Yell something like „incoming!“ or „Yo dude gotta see this man I swear it’ll be amazing!“ to sufficiently underline the significance of your yet-to-be-pulled-up find of the century.
- Pull up to surface level, check real quick for boom-stuff.
- Pull up all the way and rejoice over the rusty hunk of steel and wonder what it could possibly be.
- Remove mud until you can actually tell what it is.
- Snap pictures and send them to your friends who will not care and wonder how you could possibly spend your time with nonsense that gets you dirty. All your cool friends will be by your side anyway.
- Answer the question of the general public. Be prepared to be filmed even when you didn’t bring a camera (and why didn’t you?).
- Repeat the process until sufficiently exhausted.
What to do with all the scrap?
Well, hopefully you’ll figure this out before you head out. „Worst case“ and still a lot better than the alternative of leaving the stuff in the water: Collect your finds that you won’t take home and toss them into the nearest bin (or if big enough orderly place them next to the next bin). Someone will come and the stuff will magically disappear eventually, I think there are scrap-elves who silently communicate the existence of finds through omnipresent atmosphere distortions or something like that.
Or you do what I did:
- Buy a large truck with hopes of turning it into a camper van, work truck and magnet fishing exploration vehicle.
- Get ridiculed by friends and family for buying a large truck while living in the city.
- Be broke enough that you have to borrow money from your mum to pay the first quarter of insurance.
- Collect enough scrap metal to pay for power tools
- Learn how to use power tools after you bought them. Lesson learned: It’s pretty easy to use power tools even when no one ever taught you. That’s what YouTube was made for.
- Make scrap art.
- Sell scrap art online and on flea markets until you can afford the next quarter of insurance. It helps to have a YouTube channel at this stage.
- Have your social life fade away while you spend each weekend either magnet fishing or building scrap art out of magnet fishing finds.
- Realize that it’s easier to run power tools cordless than it is to run a welder from the back of a truck. Buy two car batteries and jumper cables and just redneck it.
- Wake up one day and realize that you’re now that kind of guy who has a truck, tools and the knowledge to use them while the doubters and haters are still busy watching Netflix. Feel like you’re winning in life for five minutes, then get back to magnet fishing and get some work done.
- Get sued by a city archaeologist for „illegal search for historic artifacts using technical aids“ after he watches a video where you clean up a river free of charge and pull out a whole truck load of scrap metal, bikes and shopping carts (and no single historic artifact). Sign a cease and desist to avoid the joy of standing for the judge. See your YouTube channel crumble in the absence of new posts while trying to resolve the legal situation. Leave the small-town slob behind and start magnet fishing in the big city after months of inactivity. Find loads of cool stuff but never reach the old levels of views and interaction again.
- See the cool city outlawing magnet fishing after someone else found a hand grenade that didn’t even blow up. Spend three more months trying to get a special permit, get as close to a personal meeting with the guy responsible who offers you to start a company and get paid by the city to clean up. Then never hear from him again after you agree.
- Move to a different state where you have a written permit to go magnet fishing. Start building up everything from scratch, after all scrap, dirt and pain are what the channel was built on from the get-go.
- Spend the annoying last month before your move writing a long-ass post about magnet fishing.
- Reap the benefits of your hard work? We’ll see.
And lastly: Have tons of fun for little money
Even with the arguably high expense of 5k worth of truck and tools it is still a damn lot of fun for the amount of money I have in it – and apart from the rope and magnets all the other things serve me damn fine to build and tinker, camp and explore.
But that’s just a side note and you can have plenty of fun with just hundred bucks of magnet, rope and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
So let me end this post by saying I hope you found it useful!