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Fishing without a license

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In early summer, I braved the lower Delaware River and went striper fishing. It was cold, but we caught some great fish and had a fantastic time. I used bait I’d never touched before (bloodworms) and had to learn to let the fish go on the line longer than I was used to in order to hook one.

Last fall, I learned some new tricks fishing the Salmon River in Pulaski. Again, completely different. Learning where the ledges were, guessing where these behemoths were hiding as we “carefully” crossed running wader in our chest waders (spoiler alert: I fell).

When I was a kid, I fished in lakes, streams, rivers, backyard ponds and the ocean (and caught everything from crawfish to sharks), but I’ve never fished like this.

A magnet, a rope and a good throw. That’s it. No license, no real special gear and most important… no fish. It seems like a weird thing to do. However, with the amazing things that get lost along the river and other waterways in our area, the potential for treasure was a lure I couldn’t resist.

Magnet fishing is a great alternative to metal detecting for those who are on a budget or just want to try something new (or are tired of fighting fish). For under $50 you can get into this hobby and potentially find enough stuff to say you broke even on cost.

The first step is to get a neodymium magnet with an eye-hook style bolt in it and a rope. Magnets come in various strengths, shapes, sizes and weights. Try to find something with a strong pull that you can still lug around and throw. Then you’re going to need some rope to attach to the magnet. Paracord with 550lb rating is commonly used with a 255lb-rated magnet, however, and boating rope will do too (as long as it’s rated stronger than your magnet). And remember, Archimedes was right: things in the water are lighter than on land. This means a 255lb magnet will try and pull something that weighs more than 255 pounds. 

Once you have the rope and the magnet, it’s a knot and go. The type of knot can vary depending on who you talk to… but it’s gotta be better than a double knot. Some say the Palomar knot, others swear by the water bowline knot. I cheated and didn’t knot mine. Instead, I got anchor rope that came with the loop built in, slipped the rope through the hoop and snugged it up to the eyehook.

There were two big tips I picked up before I started. One was to use a thread locker to keep the eye bolt firmly in the magnet. Some people lamented how they didn’t think of that and lost their magnet because the bolt came loose. The other big tip I learned along the way was taking the top of a soda bottle and sliding it over the magnet. It keeps the setup from getting stuck as easily when it’s in the water.

Remember, this isn’t “fishing” so it’s best not to try your normal fish habitats, but rather people habitats. Anything you pull out of the water was left behind by a person. So, find places people go and invariably drop things. Boat launches, access areas, near bridges, or near docks are all great hot spots. Don’t forget about local swimming holes either.

People lose all sorts of stuff (or sometimes throw it in the water to get rid of it). You’ll find lost lures, nuts, screws, bolts, jewelry, old phones and possibly some coins. (The only magnetic U.S. coins you will find right now are 1943 steel cents, though the U.S. mint has been investigating steel as a cheaper alternative for one-cent and five-cent coins. So there may be more American “magnetic coins” for you to find in the future.)

The techniques for pulling in your loot vary depending on your fishing area. The traditional “throw out your metal lure and pull it back in” might make you lose what you’ve caught, as the magnet bumps along the bottom.  Standing at water level on shore, it’s the only way to really fish.

If you happen to get above the water level and can drop the magnet down and pick it back up like a claw arcade machine, you’ll have a better shot. The same works if you have a boat or a canoe to fish from.

Sometimes the stuff you pull out is amazing and other times it’s garbage. Depending on what you pull, throwing it out correctly is an option—or you could sell it for scrap metal. And even though it might not have any actual value, knowing that you’re out there cleaning up the water is a treasure too.

SCIENCE TIME:
When an object is underwater, it has the force of gravity pulling it down and buoyant force pulling it up. The force of gravity is determined by mass, and buoyant force is determined by volume.  

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