As seen in the September/October 2020 Gold Prospectors Magazine
By GPAA Member, Rod Grant
Pan for gold while you sluice for trout. Catch fish as a no-effort byproduct of your prospecting activities. Something for nothing is a wonderful idea, as are buy one, get one free (BOGO), double dipping, or two for the price of one. These wonderful concepts in shopping can be applied to gold prospecting. Double dipping is a term usually equated with shady dealings and questionable business practices. Twist that concept. Massage it. Tweak it here, move it there. Caressed properly, the face of “double dipping” turns from a frown to a grin if you do it right.
Doubling dipping: Used in gold prospecting, double dipping is receiving an expected benefit from an action while gaining an additional benefit with no or minimal additional effort.
By double dipping you stand a better chance of covering your operating costs. Gold value is hovering around $1,000 per ounce and trout will cost you $3 per pound in the grocery store. Many times, the cash value of the trout has been more valuable than the fly poop in my sniffer bottle. Bring home both gold and trout and you come closer to covering your gas money. So, see? Do both on each trip and you might actually make money. Potentially… maybe … with luck … well, at least by double dipping you have a chance to break even.
Accomplishing this goal of breaking even is made easier due to the fact that trout and gold are found in the same streams. They even rest in the same places. Gold drops out and trout rest in the same calm water sections of every stream. Gold and trout “inhabiting” the same spot is not a coincidence. Scientific research has turned a perceived coincidence into scientific fact.
Scientific proof links trout to gold. Research has only been done in Pacific Northwest so far, although it is my desire that this article will serve as a jumping off point for research that needs to be done with other species of fish in other parts of the country, even the world.
Gold rushes come and go. Their life span is determined by gold availability and the amount of effort required to reach the precious metal. These two factors are all we have ever needed to consider when prospecting. They determine whether or not we bring home gold. It used to be easy to pick up nuggets. Now, we are tickled pink to find fly poop in some locations. I am definitely ticklish, and being tickled pink is fine as long as I get gold.
On the surface, prospecting is all about finding and getting. However, scientists have found that there is more to the equation. Research conducted by the Department of Geology at Oregon State University into the properties of gold has achieved remarkable findings. There is a force emanating from gold deposits (the purity and amount of the gold positively affecting the strength of the field) that actually attracts some species of animals to it, most notably homo sapiens and salmonids. The salmonid most affected by that energy in the Pacific Northwest is Oncorhynchus clarkia (cutthroat trout). Larger deposits create a more powerful energy field, and that is very significant. I have witnessed times on Quartzville Creek in Oregon where the fish seemed to be in a feeding frenzy while I was unable to bring a single trout to my fly. I know now that it must have been the strength of the gold energy in that particular spot that was making them go wild. I wonder if a large deposit of gold might actually generate a force so strong as to trigger a fish kill? Perhaps pollution isn’t the real cause of fish die-offs.
Find a dead fish and start digging?
Humans are susceptible to “gold rays” as well. Researchers at Oregon State University have hypothesized that this energy field may be what is responsible for gold fever. Gold does have very practical applications in our world, but that driving force to attain it, treasure it, value it, and in some cases worship it, has more to do with the effect of its energy field on our brains than it does in gold’s value as something unbelievably precious.
While research continued in the geology department, research into the properties of gold was started in the OSU Fisheries and Wildlife building as well. A graduate student, I.A. Fisher, working on his master’s degree in fisheries science, collected data from the Department of Geology to apply to his research. He was investigating the connection geologists found between the “golden energy field” and cutthroat trout. Fisher was the first scientist to discover an organ in cutthroat trout that was essential in what he eventually named the “gold cycle.”
Upon publishing his thesis, his findings were not well accepted. The powers that be commented that his research was nothing more than “interesting,” and actually frivolous. He received his degree and left the university, his reputation shattered. His research was thrown in a corner somewhere and forgotten. Fisher to this day believes that his thesis was quickly accepted and thrown away just to get him out of their hair. Fisheries science had left a bad taste in his mouth, and the panel that dealt with his thesis stunk to high heavens.
Fisher received his master’s degree in fisheries science with a minor in electronic engineering from good old Oregon State University, the same school I attended while going for my B.S. in fisheries and wildlife and a minor in geology. To my knowledge, we never crossed paths there. We would have enjoyed working on this research together while we spit out stories from our experiences fishing and mining. After receiving his degree, he needed a job. During his interview at White’s Electronics he was requested to elaborate on his research at OSU. His knowledge of electronic engineering got him in as a finalist for the position. His gold research got him the job.
At that point our life experiences would expand into similar but different areas of interest. He continued to do his research with the support of White’s Electronics. I continued my studies in fisheries biology. During weekends and college breaks I found my way to Sweet Home to help my father. Sometimes I would be up on Galena Mountain working my dad’s mining claims, and other times I would be at White’s Electronics in dad’s office/workshop. It was at White’s that I was able to pick Fisher’s brain.
Fisher worked with White’s Electronics in a hush-hush scientific lab. My father worked for White’s in product development. My father and I helped Fisher move into the A-frame cabin in the center of the campus. As a result, I got to know Fish Face (nickname). We eventually got around to discussing his research — well, the parts that weren’t classified, anyway. I added my own ideas, hoping that some of my experiences might help in his efforts. I never did hear from him as to whether or not my information and ideas were helpful. He must have lost my contact information — yeah, that must be it.
I learned a lot from my visits with Fisher. But I was left with a lot of unanswered questions that Fish Face couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. A lot of what he knew was classified and all that. As he put it, that knowledge was on a “need to know” basis. We went our separate ways. He went to work and I went fishing. Fisher figured it all out, and discovered the auriferous gland. I went fishing.
Long before there was any knowledge of the gold cycle, auriferous gland, and the gold energy field, I was a miner’s kid. It is fun to reminisce, but I offer this little aside into my past because it does show that even then, I had noticed a connection between gold and trout.
Dad’s sluice box was working in Galena Creek near its’ confluence with Quartzville Creek. I was feeding it. I wasn’t the first to fish behind a sluice box. I was the first to get yelled at for doing it. That darn sluice box and everything entailed in being a miner’s kid adversely affected my opportunities to spend time with large native cutthroat trout in the clear waters of Quartzville Creek.
My father wasn’t a fisherman. He could not understand why I would rather fish than sluice gravel from Galena or muck out the mine shaft up on the mountain. I was happy fishing. He was happy getting copper and gold. Why couldn’t we both have what we wanted? Dad liked to blast and dig dirt, so he would do that. I would take the material to the dump truck or sluice box. He got a little dirty, and I was usually dusty, dirty, muddy and wet.
Once, while waiting for dad’s dirt pile to grow large enough that I would need to start processing it, I dug into my backpack and took out what I needed to fish with while I worked. I tied 6 feet of 4-pound monofilament to a nail head at the foot of dad’s wooden sluice box. On the business end of the line went my go-to fly, an old English wet fly called a Cow Dung. Other flies worked just as well, but you’ve just gotta love telling people, “Oh, I caught that on Cow Dung.” I had already done my work and was taking a break to tie that fishing line to the sluice box. I was multitasking. I wasn’t the first to fish behind a sluice box. I was the first to get yelled at for doing it. Dad yelled, snorted, and went back to his hole in the gravel bar. I began the robotic, mind-numbing activity of feeding the sluice. To keep from going crazy, I pondered the mysteries of life. I was 16 years old. I thought about gold and trout. And girls. At some point, I had it all figured out. Fish and gold, not girls. That day I became convinced that there was indeed a connection between gold and trout. I felt there was sufficient evidence of a synergistic relationship between them. I told my dad. He told me to shut up and shovel. I tabled my ideas about gold-trout synergy. In a couple of years, I graduated from Oregon State, left the claim, got a job in Portland, and forgot all about the auriferous gland and gold energy.
Fast-forward 40 years. After living a good and interesting life, I brought my ideas on gold-trout synergy out from under that table. I read, I researched, and I thought long and hard. I was surprised to find that scientists in the early 19th century had already begun research hoping to understand the science of gold formation. Some scientists of that time believed that gold was created in streams due to electromagnetic and chemical processes. And then these gold “seeds” continue to grow until they form bigger and BIGGER nuggets. Although if that was true, wouldn’t it be better in the long run to be releasing fine gold? Perhaps after stewing in the stream awhile, fly poop will turn into rabbit-dropping sized nuggets? A Golder Boulder? Food for thought.
I remembered Fisher’s research and his findings. I placed everything I knew out on the table and added Fish Face’s conclusions on the gold cycle, energy field, and the auriferous gland. My resulting conclusion is that trout and gold are indeed in a symbiotic relationship. They need each other to keep their little ecosystems in balance. It starts with the bright colors of native, stream-bred trout. A healthy auriferous gland in all native trout produces those bright and vibrant colors along the sides of the fish. Hatchery fish have no or very little coloration compared to native, stream-bred trout. This is probably due to the stunting of or, possibly, the complete absence of an auriferous gland. As a freshly hatched alevin, a nanometer-size gold “seed” enters the trout’s respiratory system when it takes in stream water. That seed lodges in the auriferous gland. The “seed” in that gland continues to grow larger and larger as more and more nanometer-size gold particles are ingested and accumulated. When the gland is full of gold, it passes out of the trout the way everything else passes out of a fish. Small trout, small gland, small gold. Big trout, big gland, gold nugget.
Applying Fisher’s research to my working theory, it turns out that instead of accidentally “inhaling” nanometer-size gold particles, as I once believed, fish take gold into their bodies by choice. They are drawn to it due to the energy field that emanates from the gold in the stream. They “feed” on gold and it lodges in their auriferous gland. As gold accumulates there, these separate particles and pieces of gold somehow adhere to each other, forming one large piece, like a picker or nugget. As the auriferous gland gets full, the gold is expelled through the “south end,” or the “golden sluice.” The expelled nugget attracts a larger fish and the cycle repeats. And the gold nuggets get larger. The number and size of trout found in the stream have a direct correlation to the amount and size of the gold found in the stream.
Remember stories of lots of big fish, even prehistoric monsters once found in our streams and oceans? In our times big fish are gone and the numbers are down. Large and plentiful fish, large and plentiful nuggets. A few tiny fish will bring us nothing but fly-poop-size gold.
Those 19th century scientists made correct assumptions. Gold, trout, and stream water need each other. The workings of this biological mechanism make up another of nature’s cycles. Nature is made up of cycles. The rain-cycle, the chlorophyll-cycle, and now the Au-cycle. Trout eat. Trout rest. Trout poop. Another of nature’s necessary and miraculous cycles.
Disclaimer: The above story was fiction interspersed with a lot of biographical info thrown in to make it more believable. Scientific concepts espoused were a mixture of pure fiction, stretched truths, and pure whimsy. I have told versions of this story around campfires and in mining camp mess tents. I have chosen this time and place to regurgitate my theory for all to enjoy, ridicule, and make derisive comments about.
This is certainly not how gold is created, but gold and fish are found in the same streams and in areas where water slows down in those streams. Who knows, more research down the road may one day prove out Fisher’s theory and my hypothesis. We would become co-winners of the Nobel Prize in “Stuff that doesn’t matter.”
While the above was whimsy, fishing for trout while prospecting is really a “thing.” To this day, I still have Cow Dung trailing behind my sluice box. And, I did get yelled at for fishing while sluicing. I caught fish that day, and dad didn’t yell at me while eating his plate of fish — and he did smile while chewing. He eventually admitted that it was a pretty clever way to play and work at the same time, and the fruits of my labors were delicious.
If you would like to pursue fish while prospecting, I encourage you to do so. Fishing gives us one more reason to be on the stream, and that is always a plus. Keep a few if the law allows. It saves on groceries and it is a nice break from the tedium that is a constant companion in mining. Below, I have noted some no-nonsense, actually useful information and recommendations for how to gear up for chasing stream trout. You should also find here all you need to know about trout behavior to be able to at least look like you know what you are doing when fishing.
Quartzville Creek taught me a lot about fishing. I learned there are certain facts that are always true.
- Trout rest and gold deposits in slower water on the inside bend of a stream and behind obstructions in the water.
- For best results, always fish before you start digging dirt. Splashing scares fish.
- Even while sluicing you can catch fish in the “exhaust.” You’re flushing insects from the gravel into the stream like chum.
No-Nonsense Tackle Considerations for Fishing While Prospecting
Mainstream fishing magazines will attempt to steer you toward a specific rod, reel, line, and leader for every fish and fishing condition. Rod, reel, and line manufacturers endlessly advertise in those same magazines. For instance, a typical description of a suitable fly rod for stream fishing would be, “Graphite rod with a fast tip for a 5-weight line.” In a spinning rod, a graphite two-piece for a 4- to 6-pound line would be an example of what would be recommended.
My recommendation: Have a fly rod? Bring it. Have a spinning rod? Bring it.
Refer to above. Bring a reel.
With a spinning reel, you won’t need a leader unless it is spooled with heavy line. The thicker the monofilament, the easier it is for fish to see it. Four-pound line or leader is plenty strong for most any small stream fishing.
For fly fishing, you don’t usually need an expensive tapered leader. Five feet of 4-pound mono is all you need.
Weight and Misc. Tackle
Weight in the form of reusable split shot in a few sizes will get your offering down as deep as needed. Adding weight to your line will make it easier to cast farther as well.
A strike indicator (bobber) may be needed to keep your offering at a desired depth. Don’t buy one, tie on a twig.
Fish are stupid. They have tiny little brains. We pretend they are leader-shy or have seen too much pressure when they don’t bite. Having a few excuses lined up ready for use makes us feel better when we fail to catch fish. When it comes to lures, few lures catch fish in creeks as well as small spinners. They attract fish by flashing as they fall in the water column, and spin faster and flash more as they are pulled through the water. It is best to have spinners that spin easily. Some spinners don’t spin well unless you crank them fast. Those spinners are better for lakes. A good stream spinner spins easily, and therefore stays in front of the fish longer and allows fish to chase down your lure. My choices are Panther Martins, Mepps, and Rooster Tails.
See the above. Fish are stupid. Even so, a couple of factors about fly selection do seem to bring a higher level of success. I have seen hideous flies being dragged across the top of the water, leaving a wake similar to what you might see in a power boat race. I also saw one of those hideous flies and laughable technique catch a 3-pound bull trout on the Metolius River. Again, fish are stupid. That one fish sure was. I was there for a couple of hours, fishing and watching, and she did not catch another fish. But several people did race up to the Camp Sherman Store after witnessing her success catching one fish. Later, the fly shop guy told me he had a big run on some really ugly Tied Down Caddis Nymphs that had been gathering dust in the corner of a fly bin due to the fact that they were so gosh-darn ugly. I told him my story and we had a good laugh. Let’s get back to fly selection, though. Mayflies and caddisflies make up the bulk of a trout’s diet in your gold panning stream. If your fly sort of resembles the fish’s food you probably stand a better chance of catching a fish. Mayfly imitations that just seem to work are Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Adams, and Humpy. Caddisflies are well imitated with a Cascade Caddis Nymph, Elk Hair Caddis, and Humpy. Humpies make both lists because they are just great flies, and fish are stupid. Tie one of these on and catch fish.
Usual bait choices are worms, salmon eggs, and Power Bait. When I teach fly tying classes, I eventually get the conversation around to telling students how stupid fish are. Seems to be a theme, doesn’t it? A trout’s affinity for Power Bait is an example of their lack of higher thinking. I usually say something like, “Fish are stupid. They like Power Bait.” There are dozens of colors, and color combinations with and without glitter. When the Berkeley Fishing Company ran out of color variations, they just had to start putting every color of glitter they could find in it as well. If they will eat Power Bait, they will eat anything! There are devotees of every one of these color/glitter combinations. The idea of a doughy chartreuse bait is offensive to me. I hate Power Bait. I have 10 varieties at last count. I recommend the original orange color with no glitter.
Reading the Water
The life of a trout consists of feeding, resting, hiding, and ejecting gold. When hiding, they tend to be tight lipped. They prefer to get their food by expending as little effort as possible. Fast water brings food past a fish at a higher rate than a stretch of slack water. Staying in the fast water is very tiring for them. A stream trout’s favorite place to hang out is a spot where they can rest while waiting for the food truck to bring some bugs. Fast water meeting slow water is an “edge.” Trout like to use the edges. Examples are where fast water passes by a bank, fast water meets slow water, and where the pocket of calmer water can be found behind in-stream boulders. Fish the edges to place your offering past the hungriest fish.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my silliness, experiences, opinions, and recommendations for catching trout while prospecting. If catching fish is more important to you than panning for gold, be sure to fish first. Fish can usually be caught from the end of the sluice while working the gravel, but you might get yelled at. “Double dip your trip” (I think that phrase should make it onto a T-shirt). Get coals ready for cooking, lay a trout in the pan with hot butter and watch it curl. For seasoning, salt is good, but I think trout tastes better when each bite is sprinkled with fly poop.