How to Read a Stream for Gold

Author: GARY STURGILLTuesday, March 4, 2014

How to Read a Stream for Gold

Categories: How-To's

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By Gary Sturgill
If you know where the fish are hiding, then you can tell where the gold is by using the same techniques.

Fish like to hide in the low-current places such as behind rocks or downed trees because that’s where the food drops out of the rivers swift current. Gold will do the same thing; it will drop out and settle into the gravels whenever the water flow is no longer strong enough to keep it moving.

Remember, gold is 19.3 times heavier than the water that’s pushing it. The only metal heavier than gold is platinum which is 21.4 times heavier than water.

When you get to the stream, you first want to take it all in from a high vantage point so you can read the stream in question. Remember, during flood stage the gold will take the straightest and shortest route. Look for gravel bars left high and dry from the winter flood. They are going to be on the inside corners where the water flow slows.

The outside of a turn is where the water flows the fastest and you might find some color there but not as much as you will find on the inside. The gravel bar’s rough surface acts like a gold trap, collecting all the fine particles of gold that come dancing across its surface.

You can usually find “flood gold“ every spring in the top eight inches.

Look for downed trees across the stream and the gravels behind them on the downstream side; it acts like a big riffle in your sluice box collecting the streams heavier material behind it.

Look for boulder patches. The gold will drop out between these big rocks and eventually work its way under them. Be very careful when moving these big rocks, as they can roll and do bodily damage, and or pinning you under the water.

Look for exposed bedrock and follow it into the river and up the bank, popping all the crack as you go and cleaning them out. If the bedrock is pointed and sharp, someone has already been there ahead of you. But, if the bedrock has been worn smooth from the water flowing over it, you are looking at an unworked area, so pop them cracks open. The bedrock will rise and fall creating low spots that fill with the heavier material, these are areas to concentrate on also.

Now that you have surveyed your surroundings, let’s get to work. Start test panning the areas that looked most promising first. When you start finding lead fishing weights and old shotgun lead you are in a good spot, keep digging and testing, putting all the lead you find to the side to be disposed of later.

Although lead shot has been banned in most places and hunters are now using steel shot, lead fishing weights are still commonly used by anglers. Be sure to remove this toxic lead from all rivers and streams to do your part for the environment.

Now, you should be finding some smaller pieces of gold, as you go down they will get a little larger.  Watch the sides of your hole as you go, looking at the different layers. The layers with the larger rocks are heavy water years and pushed a lot more gold than the sandy layers without any pebbles. Bigger rocks mean bigger gold!

As you are testing the layers and you find one that is giving more colors than the rest, start drifting, following the layers that are producing and testing every so often as you go as to stay in the pay streak.

Remember that gold is where you find it and sometimes it has missed a good place to hide.

Gary Sturgill is an experienced gold prospector and Trade Show Manager for Gold Prospectors Association of America. He can be reached at

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