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Best Metal Detectors For Fresh Water Beaches & Lakes

(How To Be A Successful Fresh Water Beach Hunter)

By Andy Sabisch
Coins Found
A Weekend's Worth of Coins Recovered from a Small County Public Beach with Little More than a Metal Detector and Sand Scoop. With the Beach Packed throughout the Summer, a New Crop will be Ready to Harvest on a Regular Basis.
(Items from the Author's Personal Collection and Recovered from a Public Beach with Permission from the Resource Manager)

An early morning breeze swept across the small lake as Steve unpacked his metal detector, scoop and other gear from the trunk of his car in the parking lot of the town swimming beach. Countless residents had spent time cooling off during the warm summer months in the shallow water since the beach was first opened shortly after WWII ended and Steve was hoping that coins, jewelry and other items might still be waiting to be recovered. He had been here before and found not only recently-lost items but coins and other things that dated back to the first half of the 20th century. For the first hour or so Steve criss-crossed the dry sand and picked up close to $10 in clad coins, a pair of Matchbox cars that his kids would add to their growing collection when they came home from school and a silver & turquoise medallion. Getting his long-handled scoop from the trunk, Steve waded out into the water and slowly worked back-and-forth parallel to the beach. Standing in the waist-deep water, watching the ducks and geese swimming past and seeing the town come to life, Steve felt the weight of the world fall from his shoulders and knew that this was the most relaxing hobby one could have. Signals were fairly plentiful and while most were recently-lost, a pair of dark gray Mercury dimes and a few Wheat cents did turn up in his scoop. Glancing at his watch a while later, he saw it was time to pack up and take care of some errands but emptying his pouch, he smiled to see that in addition to the coins, there were two gold rings...a heavy man's ring with several diamond chips on the face and a class ring from the local high school. As a side note, Steve was able to track down the boy that had lost the class ring more than 3 years earlier just a few months after he had gotten it and the story made the front page of the local newspaper which helped paint the hobby in a positive light. If this sounds like something you would be interested in trying, then this guide is for you.

Beach hunting is probably the only form of treasure hunting where almost anyone can go out and find items worth $100's or even $1,000's just a short drive from their house. Most importantly, one is able to do it on an on-going basis as valuable targets are continually being lost at beaches and informal swimming sites. With very few exceptions, there will be a beach or at least a spot where people have spent time relaxing in the water near any location across the country and these sites tend to remain popular year after year resulting in a steady stream of valuables being lost.

The techniques and equipment used at fresh water versus salt water sites are in many cases quite different due to the conditions that exist at each so this guide will cover how to hunt fresh water sites.

Freshwater sites have fewer ground challenges than salt water sites where black sand, salt water and flakes of rusted metal tend to challenge most metal detectors. Fresh water sites are typically smaller in size than ocean beaches and are often well-defined with buoys / ropes enclosing the swimming area. As a result, it is fairly easy to determine where to focus your search efforts especially if the site is still in-use. Stopping by at the busiest time of the day will let you see where the activity is centered and those are the areas that will hold the greatest potential when you return after the crowds leave for the day or the site closes for the season.


Rings Found
Seven Pieces of Jewelry Recovered from Several Fresh Water Sites Over the Course of Two Weeks. The Class Ring was Returned to the Original Owner Who Could Not Believe Her Ring was Found after Laying on the Bottom of the Lake for More than 4 Years.
(Items from the Author's Personal Collection and Recovered with Permission from the Property Owners or Area Managers)

When it comes to fresh water beach and shallow water hunting, the two biggest factors in selecting a detector are ensuring the electronics do not get wet and having the ability to apply some level of discrimination to keep from digging piles of nails, bobby pins and other pieces of trash. Salt water tends to accelerate the deterioration process of small ferrous items which is why Pulse Induction detectors do so well in those areas...the trash disappears within months of having been lost. At fresh water sites, a bobby pin or nail lost in the 1940's will likely still be waiting for you to detect it decades later and will cause nothing but frustration if you do not have the ability to reject it.

VLF detectors have proven themselves to be the "detector-of-choice" for most fresh water hunters due to their sensitivity to targets in the jewelry range, their ability to ignore trash thanks to discrimination circuits and their ease of use. Multi-frequency detectors such as those from Minelab and Fisher are also good choices although if you never plan on visiting salt water sites, they may prove to be over-kill for strictly fresh water sites. While some adventurous water hunters modify land detectors for use in the water, unless you have experience in this conversion, it is much easier to simply buy a detector that was designed for use in and around the water. Kellyco carries detectors intended for this application from virtually every major manufacturer...do your homework and make your choice.

Weight and balance may become a key factor in your final decision. Remember, the waterproof case and non-buoyant coil that these detectors require will add weight to the entire assembly. If you are planning to hunt in the water for extended periods of time, look at the profile of the models you are considering as drag through the water as you sweep back-and-forth can quickly wear you out and bring the day to an abrupt and premature end. Some models allow you to hipmount the control box which makes it much easier to hunt in the water for an entire day in the field.

An option that has become quite popular with water hunters is what is known as a straight shaft. By replacing the standard S-shaft design found on most detectors with a straight-shaft design, the balance is improved and the detector will appear lighter allowing it to be used for longer periods of time without fatigue. Kellyco carries the line of  Anderson Straight Shafts  which are recognized for their design and overall build quality. There are shafts for most detectors currently on the market.

Coil size will depend on the type of sites you plan on hunting as well as if you will be in the water or on dry land.Larger coils cover more ground with each sweep and get a bit more detection depth but they do produce more drag when sweeping back-&-forth in the water and when searching trashy areas, are susceptible to target masking resulting in potentially missed targets. Smaller coils offer the opposite in terms of pros and cons. While a few models offer interchangeable coils, for the most part, search coils are hard-wired to the control unit to prevent leakage from occurring so you need to make a decision as to what factors are more important at the time of purchase.

Once you have selected a detector, other items that you will want to consider adding to your equipment arsenal include a recovery tool or tools (see below), a mesh pouch or bag that closes securely to hold your finds, a floating sifter that reduces the time to find detected targets in the water, a pair of dive boots or water shoes and a miners-style headlamp if you plan on hunting the beaches at night when the crowds have left.

Finding Sites to Search:

Old Toy Watch Found
Coins and Jewelry are Not the Only Things Waiting to be Recovered from Freshwater Swimming Sites. This Toy Watch Recovered from a Swimmin' Hole in a Georgia Creek Dates from the 1930's and Makes a Unique Addition to One's Collection.
(Item from the Author's Personal Collection and Recovered on Private Property with Permission from the Owner)

Now that you have the right equipment to tackle the unique challenges that beach and shallow water hunting pose, the question is where to go and start picking up those valuables waiting to be recovered. Well the first sites that should come to mind are any formal swimming beaches in the area. Depending on where you live, they can be operated by local agencies, State parks, the Corps of Engineers, the National Forest system or privately owned. Unfortunately more and more restrictions have been placed on where detector owners are allowed to search and beach / water hunting is no exception. You would think that if an area has been developed for swimming by hauling in truckloads of sand that there are probably no historic artifacts that might be inadvertently uncovered; however, restrictions exist none the less. For locally controlled swimming areas, stop by and ask to speak to the site manager to check on any restrictions that might exist. Often, if there are any it will simply be that you are not allowed to search the area when patrons are present and that makes sense to all involved. To see what restrictions exist at State parks in your area, do a quick Internet search for "(Your State) State Park" and look for the Rules and Regulations page. If the regulations are not clear, give the main office a call and let them know where you are interested in searching. If you are given the "green light", get the name of the person you spoke to in case you are challenged when you get to the site - I can tell you from personal experience that if you are challenged and do not have a name, you will be told to leave and your trip was wasted. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls large tracts across the country and many of these areas contain waterways with developed swimming areas. A visit to the main Corps of Engineers website (https://www.usace.army.mil/) will direct you to the regional office that controls sites in your area. A quick phone call will help you determine what restrictions might exist and if a permit is required (which is needed for some sites). Private swimming areas are typically a little harder to gain access to but if you, a friend or relative know the owner, you might just be given exclusive access to a site that can become your private Fort Knox. Over the years I have been fortunate to have been granted access to a few of these sites and what one can recover in a short period of time is truly amazing.

If you are interested in doing a little research to find swimming areas that were popular years ago but have fallen into disuse, the best place to start is with a few of the long-time residents in the area. Ask them where they swam when they were kids or better yet, where their parents swam when they were kids. Before the 1940's, informal swimmin' holes were commonplace and many of these sites are not documented anywhere other than in the memories of the older residents that once frequented them.

Another source that a few hours of research can unearth sites in are old newspapers from the local area. They often list gatherings at beaches that may have closed decades ago in the Social section, report items lost by swimmers in the Lost & Found section or even mention a drowning that occurred at a local beach in the Obituary section. Many libraries have started to make their collection of newspapers available on-line to members and a call can find out of your library is one of them. There is a subscription-based service (https://www.newspapers.com/) that is adding 1,000's of old newspapers each month from around the globe which is an option if you are into some 21st century research. The old-fashioned method of spending a rainy afternoon going through archives or rolls of microfilm still works and has proven to be an effective way to find sites that most of your competition has overlooked.

With the increased competition among beach and water hunters today, research is the key if you want to be successful. With a little effort you will be able to locate sites that are currently in use as well as those that have become little more than memories that have likely not been hunted before.

Ok, It's Search Time:

Hopefully your research efforts have paid off and you have a list of sites to search. Again, one of the advantages of hunting freshwater sites is that for the most part, any items that are lost tend to remain where they were lost for years. Unlike ocean beaches where tidal action can move a coin or ring literally blocks in a matter of days, freshwater sites tend to be much more static in nature. If the site is still in use, the area of activity can be easily identified and the type of people frequenting specific areas readily determined with a little reconnoitering when the crowds are there.

The areas you should look for include:

  • The Areas Where Mothers Splash Around with their Toddlers : Often there will be one section of the beach where mothers play with their young children and when you have suntan lotion, cool water and splashing, rings often find their way off fingers and lay hidden in the sandy bottom.
  • The Areas Where Teens and Adults Tend to Horse Around : The area from waist deep out to the ropes is where horseplay tends to take place. This is where the lifeguards are forced to focus much of their attention and as with the shallow areas, suntan lotion and horseplay tends to result in items being lost and in deeper water, they tend to stay lost until a metal detector comes along.
  • The Dry Sand : Here you want to see where the towels are laid out (coins and other items are often lost when the towels are picked up), lounge chairs are setup (items fall through into the sand), volleyball nets are in-use (coins, jewelry and other items are easily lost in the loose sand) or where the concession stands are (coins are lost in front of the windows or on paths to / from the stands).

The most important point of searching any of these three areas is where you set your discrimination. While it may be tempting to increase it when you have recovered 50 pull tabs, the important thing to remember is that most gold jewelry will appear identical to aluminum trash. If you pass up the trash there is a good chance that you will be passing up the treasure as well.

When hunting the dry sand, it is easy to mark where you have searched by dragging your scoop behind you or looking for the imprint from the search coil. Good coverage can make the difference at the end of the day because if you miss a $5,000 diamond ring by an inch it might as well have been on the beach on the other side of the county as it will not be in your pouch as you drive home. In the water ensuring you do not miss a spot is a little more challenging. Unless you being some fiberglass ro bamboo posts that you can put out to guide off of, try to focus on something ahead of you such as a post, a buoy, a concession stand, a tree...something that you can glance at and correct your course if you start to wander left or right.

Recovery Tools:

For beach hunting, scoops are the "tool-of-choice". In the dry sand, a hand scoop is the best piece of equipment for the job unless bending over poses an issue for you as they are lighter and will quickly recover targets that have been detected. Scoops range in construction from lightweight plastic (which are handy as you can pass the scoop across the coil and see if the target is in it or still in the hole) to rugged metal scoops made from steel or aluminum. Some dry sand beach hunters opt for a lightweight scoop with an adjustable handle which is easier on the back when recovering dozens of targets.

If you decide to leave the dry sand behind and search the shallow waters of the swimming area, a long handle scoop is a necessity. Even if the beach bottom consists of just sand, invest in a scoop that will hold up to the punishment of digging deep holes in compacted soil, sand or rocks. Those that have hunted with me have commented on the condition of my primary scoop which has been with me on countless hunts since I bought it back in the 1980's. Other than it looking a bit battle-scarred, it works just as well today as it did nearly 30 years and 1,000’s of holes ago. This is one tool where spending a little more upfront will pay off in spades with the increased efficiency you will have in recovering targets and the durability of the scoop itself.

An inexpensive piece of equipment that will save you time in recovering targets is a magnet placed in the back of your scoop. Rusted pieces of metal will show up even with the use of discrimination and the magnet will quickly grab and hold these trash targets which keeps you from chasing them as they keep falling through the holes in the scoop. One of the best types to buy can be purchased from a farm supply store and is called a cow magnet - they are fed to cows to retain metallic junk ingested by the cow and allows it to be passed without injury. Secure it to the back of your scoop with a wire tie and small ferrous trash will no longer be a problem.


If the thought of seeing the glint from a piece of gold jewelry sparkling up from the bottom of your scoop or an old coin laying in your palm after being plucked from shallow water sounds like something you'd like to experience, scope out a few of the lakes, ponds, creeks and rivers near your home and give fresh water hunting a try. It is an addictive form of treasure hunting and one that can be done almost anywhere across the country with the right equipment.


Recommended Equipment

Garrett Metal Detectors
Minelab Metal Detectors
White's Metal Detectors
Nokta Metal Detectors
Teknetics Metal Detectors
Fisher Metal Detectors
Quest Metal Detectors
Aqua Scan Metal Detectors
OKM Metal Detectors
Bounty Hunter Metal Detectors
Brute Magnetics
XP Metal Detectors