Steve shows me the basics of magnet fishing.

I admit I did not know about magnet fishing until I bumped into Steve on my walk along the former Chicago & North Western railroad bed Friday.

As I approached the bridge I saw a man there peering over the edge. He was holding an orange-red rope. I am no fisherman, but I found this an odd way to catch fish.

Steve, who lives in the town of Princeton, laughed when I asked him if he was fishing. “Sorta.”

I looked over the edge. As he pulled up the rope, I saw the “lure” at the end of his line was a silver disc, similar to a hockey puck.

It was a magnet. A very strong magnet. (If I had known more about the hobby at the time, I would’ve asked Steve more questions, like the strength of his magnet, how much it cost, etc.)

Steve explained he was magnet fishing, which I have since learned is a hobby growing in popularity in the U.S. and a problem in Europe where so many people are doing it that the metal they’re leaving on beaches is creating its own cleanup issue.

These treasure seekers hunt by boat, along shores and, yes, from abandoned railroad bridges.

Steve, like many of the hobbyists, it seems, was introduced to magnet fishing by watching YouTube videos, including those showing a Green Bay hunter pulling up nails, spikes and other debris near a railroad bridge. On Friday, Steve had pulled in two “catches” before I arrived.

If you are interested in magnet fishing, there is a lot of information available online, including all types of kits with different strength magnets. I found an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from June 2019 interesting. (And I am not saying that because I’m on the pension plan.)

“The hobby consists of attaching a powerful magnet to a rope, then tossing the magnet into a waterway,” the article noted. “Once the magnet hits bottom, you drag it until it locks onto something metal. Then you haul the item to the surface.”

The hobby is part treasure hunt and river cleanup.

And don’t worry. Magnet fishing is legal, not to mention good for the environment.

“We think it’s absolutely wonderful that people want to go out and help clean up our waterways and remove garbage or debris, junk,” a DNR official told the newspaper. “Getting that out of a river is great.”

One of the hobbyists interviewed in the Journal Sentinel article said the spikes used to hold rails in place are especially plentiful around railroad bridges in Wisconsin waterways. He estimated he had pulled 400 spikes out of state waters.

From what I’ve read, the most popular neodymium magnet for beginning hobbyists weighs under 2 pounds but has a pull force of 500 pounds.

You can probably find a good kit, including rope and magnet, for abut $40 if it’s a hobby you wish to try. There are also instructions for do-it-yourselfers.

Who knows what treasures of Old Princeton history lay on the riverbed!

Perhaps Harvey Whittemore’s silver pocketwatch? (If you don’t understand that reference, you need to read my book!)

Happy hunting!

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