Magnet Fishing, Bridges and Trolls

Magnet fishing is having a moment. 

Nigel Lamford, 48, began magnet fishing in October 2018, after a friend repeatedly asked him to join him on a few excursions.  

Then, he saw people magnet fishing off a bridge as he was walking his dog on the way to the pub. He watched them pull things out of the river and was intrigued. Turns out, it’s a lot more interesting to see someone magnet fish than it is to hear about it. He went home and immediately purchased two magnets. On his second day of magnet fishing, he and his friend pulled out a shotgun. 

That was it for Nigel. He was hooked. The featured photo above shows him (in the middle) with friends after pulling out a few old bus stop signs from a river.

“Once you find something, it’s so hard to stop,” he said. “If I don’t go one weekend, I get withdrawal symptoms! I go if it’s raining, snowing, and if the water’s frozen, I break the ice.” 

He started a YouTube channel in April of 2019. He did it when his daughter issued a challenge of sorts — she didn’t think he would even get 100 subscribers. He was too old, she said. 

Now, with 1.6 million views and nearly 9,000 subscribers, he’s one of the most well-known magnet fishers in the UK. YouTube informed him that his channel was the fastest growing channel about magnet fishing. 

The hobby itself is growing in popularity, especially in Western Europe.

The Thrill of the Hunt

Part of Nigel’s appeal on YouTube is the crazy things he’s found. One was documented live, when a local news crew came out to do a story on the popularity of magnet fishing. He threw his magnet into a river and came up with a hand, wrapped in a bag, gripping a heavy weight. 

The police were called, and even they weren’t sure if it was real or not at first. Fortunately, it was fake. He’s been accused of planting the hand, while others think he was pranked. Either way, it invited the unsolicited comments of many, many internet sleuths. 

Trolls, really. Haters gonna hate. But that won’t stop Nigel. He loves the mystery of never knowing what he’ll pull up, and the camaraderie he’s found with other magnet fishing enthusiasts. 

He’s found plenty of early 20th century guns — something less common in the UK, where handguns are illegal, as opposed to the U.S. — sawed-off shotguns, three grenades, the tip from an antitank missile, and a super bazooka from the Vietnam War. 

“I don’t know what that was doing there,” he said.

He’s found a machete, lots of silver jewelry, safes, and signage. People love signs. He’s found some mid-century bus stop signs. Pushbikes, motorbikes. One day in August, he and his friend pulled out two and a half tons of metal. 

“It’s just the unknown,” he said about the thrill of the hunt. “You don’t know what’s coming.” 

The Tools of the Trade for Magnet Fishing

The magnet he uses has a 1,100 pound pull weight. It’s hard work, but he says his stubbornness keeps him going. He’s even made some ingenious accessories to help him pull out some of the heavier chunks of metal. After purchasing a few grappling hooks that kept breaking, he welded together crowbars. 

Now, he says, a lot of people are using the same things. He’s had to use winches attached to vans to pull out some of the objects his magnet finds.  

He says having the right equipment is crucial to success. Gloves. A good pair of Kevlar gloves is what Nigel suggests, You don’t want to get stabbed with hypodermic needles, or sliced by a Tetanus-laden chunk of metal. The wenches and crowbar grappling hooks aren’t necessary. But you do need a good magnet and a solid rope.  

Use a single-sided magnet if you’re magnet fishing off of bridges.Nigel suggests using one with a minimum pull weight of 882 lbs. 

Trolls Don’t Just Live Under Bridges Anymore

He’s caught a lot of heat for one particular kind of find: prayer beads, placed in bags with coins to weigh them down. The comment sections in some videos are sometimes taken over by arguments over what religion the prayer bag throwers are (Are they Catholic? Are they witches? Who are these people?) and the opinions are endless. Some think he’s releasing evil spirits by pulling them up. Some think he’s interfering with wishes. Some believe he’s showing disrespect. 

He’s sensitive to it all, though. He returns the prayer beads to the river, and donates all the change he finds connected to them. 

There’s a lesson in all that for future magnet fishers: be respectful of what you find, and be aware of your surroundings. Some magnet fishers are so eager to find cool stuff that they leave a massive mess behind. Clean up after yourself, don’t leave metal bits laying around for dogs and children to step on, and follow the laws. If you find gold jewelry, for example, you’re required to hand it over to the police. If you find silver jewelry, you have to attempt to find the owner for 28 days. (Both those laws are UK specific. Check your local laws for guidance!)

You may also need a permit to magnet fish in some areas. It might be outright banned in others. Check before you fish. 

But more than anything, have fun. 

“We have a great time,” said Nigel. “We have a laugh, and that’s what it’s all about.” 

In the winter, when the water freezes over, you might just have to try ice fishing to keep the fun going.