The best methods of gold panning produce nuggets when there is a lesser water flow rate. It can be really hard to get much gold when the river is running high. This is because the rich lower gravel bars are completely covered with water. To get gold nuggets from a huge river such as the Columbia, you need to plan in advance, avoiding the high water period. Many of the rivers that yield gold nuggets have variable rates of water flow depending on the season. Such rivers are the Columbia, Fraser, Yukon and Skeena in North America. You want to pan for gold nuggets when the water is lowest. It will take some
investigation to find exactly when that is. Using the Columbia as an example, it will be quite low in January to March but the water will be very cold. In the spring, it picks up lots of meltwater from snow and ice along it's water course. In the summer, the water level starts to drop. September is a good
time to try your luck. The water should be quite low and about as warm as it gets. Of course, water temperature has little to do with your luck gold panning, but it's much easier to work when you don't have really cold hands. You certainly can use a pair of insulated gloves when panning for gold nuggets in the winter.
Things You Will Need
Gold pan - get one that's about 12 inches in diameter. Novice users will find that a black plastic pan with molded ridges works best. You can get smaller pans for finishing work.
Insulated gloves - don't let cold water stop you.
Shovel - regular garden variety should be fine.
Heavy bar - you may want to move large bolders to get beneath them.
Image courtesey of Nate Cull.
You usually don't have the ability to pan a lot of gravel on the river when you are hunting for gold nuggets. Assuming that you are a recreational gold panner, then you are probably limited to a pan, shovel and a bar for moving rocks. To run a sluice box or dredge, you need to get various permits. A discussion of these techniques is left for the reader to research.
Take your equipment down to the river's edge. Look for signs that the river has done a lot of the work for you. Often you can find patches of rock and gravel that has abundant black sand, called
magnetite. It really is magnetic. If the river has collect this material, there is a good possibility that gold is present as well. Find a larger rock that might have trapped gold near it. Dig out the gravel that you can from around the rock. Pan this material, paying attention to the gold that you find.
Think about how water has travelled to get to this rock. It wells at the bottom of the rock before going over and down the river. Gold nuggets or flakes in suspension are travelling down too. They hit
the base and lodge or they may proceed up the rock's slope then drop behind it. Dig gravel from the base of the rock and see what you get. Gold is heavy so keep digging down as much as you can at your trial area. Move other rocks out of the way. Get gravel from as deep as you can here. The larger nuggets drop lower whenever the opportunity arises. Recreational tools don't let you move much material so you want to be smart when applying your labor in the hunt for gold. Even if you aren't too successful it should still be fun. You'll also get a good workout, if you are doing it right.
Image courtesy of Rob Lavinsky, irocks.com
When you find gold nuggets, you should sort them into categories. That will make it easier to handle them in the future. Each category, or grade, can be useful for many things so keep them separate. If all goes well, you should sort your gold and gold nuggets into these categories:
Colors - not gold nuggets, just the smallest evidence that you have found gold. Often the size of pin point up to nearly pin head size. These colors have been in the river a long time and are extremely worn. You need thousands to get a penny's worth.
Flakes - still not gold nuggets, but larger. This gold has been in the river a long time and is very worn. Gold flake sizes go from pin head size to oatmeal flake or so. If they are very flat, you need a lot of them to earn money. They will really look great in quantity.
Gold nuggets - small pieces of gold in naturally random shapes and sizes. Gold nuggets have been extracted from lode deposits by the river and broken up over time. The first grade of gold nuggets is still fairly small, up to the size of barley grains or so.
Small picker gold nuggets - larger gold nuggets that you can pick out of the pan with tweezers. They will have noticeable weight for their size due to the specific density of gold.
Nice picker gold nuggets - still larger gold nuggets that you can pick out of the pan with your fingers. Gold nuggets this size are usually worth much more than the gold bullion value. They are used in fine jewelry. Skilled jewelers will set them into gold earrings or pendant holdings for gold necklaces. They often have incredible beauty and all of them are unique.
Gold nuggets - the classic gold nugget that everyone recognizes right away. Perhaps the size of a sugar cube or more. These are fantastically valuable objects. Many serious collectors and museums want to obtain gold nuggets this size. You have hit the jackpot when you get one of these.
Fantasy gold nuggets - the stuff of legend. These huge gold nuggets often get named by their owner. Definite museum quality specimens. The largest ever found was over 2500 troy ounces, (160+ pounds, 78kg). Anything over half an ounce deserves to be in this category.At over $1200 an ounce, it is getting very lucrative to pan gold again. If you get gold nuggets, you could earn double or more premium for your work. You can work your nuggets into gold jewelry or have
it done by a custom jewelry who will artistically put your nuggets in a setting. You don't need to find very big nuggets to be successful. It's always fun to pan for gold nuggets and to show your riches to friends and family.