Metal detecting rivers and creeks can be a lot of fun, especially if you understand where to look and how to go about it. Brian Cerniglia has been metal detecting for 30 years and is very well versed and successful at detecting creeks and rivers. He detects mostly around Vine Grove, Kentucky, using the XP Deus II as his main machine, prior he used the Equinox 800. He has also used CTX3030, Excalibur, Anfibio Multi, Simplex, ATX, AT Pro, and Max Deus in the past.
Below are questions our readers have for Brian regarding wading and detecting creeks and rivers and his answers.
Brian, when metal detecting a creek or river for relics, how do you assess where the creek or river flowed 100+ years ago versus where it is now?
I usually begin by looking for historical aerials in the area of interest to see if I can notice any major changes due to human activity. I have many waterways that have been slightly diverted due to road construction or have been completely redirected due to the construction of larger buildings. Another source I have found useful when the area has not been disturbed is with topographical maps or lidar with lidar being more difficult to use, but it provides a more accurate visualization of the elevation. Water is one of the most powerful forces in nature. It can reshape even the hardest terrain without any outside influence changing its course. The only real content I have found is that natural springs tend to stay in the same location over time. This gives us a stable landmark in which you can gain your bearings when comparing or overlaying old maps with the current location of the river.
Mud bottom creeks are easier to metal detect, but can you give us some pointers on how to deal with rocky creeks? Basically, how to get to your signal while balancing and dealing with murky water as you are disturbing the rocks.
Here in Kentucky, we have both muddy and rocky bottoms, and I actually prefer digging in rocky bottoms, thanks to some special tools and techniques I have adapted over time. Having a way to tether your detector and digging tools to you helps reduce trying to balance yourself while dealing with rough terrain and swift waters. When detecting mud bottom creeks, I find a scoop to be the easiest way to recover targets, and it limits the need to put your hands into the mud. This technique, like all, does take some practice and patience as you quickly lose any visual reference of the bottom and if you’re not using a handle, trying to keep the scoop pointed in one direction can be a challenge. Now for rocky bottoms, a scoop can still be a useful tool but it tends to require slightly more control as the rocks will push the scoop away from your target. When using a scoop on both mud and rock bottoms, I have found it extremely useful to have a floating sifter to place the material you are scooping out and, with the help of a pinpointer, locating the target. You can easily and inexpensively make your own floating sifter at home and there are many guides available online on how to do so. My personal technique for rocky bottoms will require a larger investment. I use a small dive propulsion vehicle to blast the rocks away and then recover the target from the hole. This method, as with any, can be challenging as targets will move underwater and you may find yourself chasing a target deeper than expected, simply because it’s falling into the hole. Become comfortable with whatever works for you, stick with it, and before you know it, you will be a pro.
For relic hunting, how can you tell where the shoreline used to be while assessing the creek and rivers while walking them?
There are some visual clues that can help to locate the movement of the shorelines. I have found that keeping an eye out for large trees with exposed roots lets me know the water has moved in that direction, and I will usually notice smaller saplings opposite them. When you are walking or floating down the river, watch the bank for any variation of the soil on the banks. I have also noticed decaying leaves and vegetation five to six feet below the current ground level, telling me there has been a significant amount of dirt added to that area due to flooding.
Relic hunting: how do you find older river or creek crossings? What are some signs to look for?
Historical maps can provide the best amount of information when searching for crossings, as it was common to cross rivers due to the lack of bridges. Through my experience, most crossings are still shallow even today, so be mindful of large shallows that span the width of the water. Depending on erosion and the movement of the bank over the years, you may also notice what looks to be ramps into and out of the river in these shallow spots indicating there was possibly a crossing there. Creeks can be more difficult to locate crossings due to them being more shallow and allowing more areas to cross without being worked or modified. I have found that most creek crossings are still used and you can see depression on both sides where the soil has either washed away or has been compacted over time. Whether it be a river or a creek, the trees would have needed to be cleared to allow access to the water to cross, look for areas where both banks have smaller trees when compared to their surroundings.
Any tips on finding relics in dry creeks or rivers. They were there 100 years ago but now are dry or only fill up and flow during flood season?
Be prepared for some hard work. Depending on the bottom, it can be difficult to remove material. Without any moving water to help clear away the mud, sand, and small organics, it can be some tricky digging. I would use a smaller shovel than when hunting land if the bottom is mostly small rocks. If you have ever dug in gravel, you will understand why. If the bottom is mud, then your normal digging tools typically work ok, but be ready for some thick sticky mud and clay.
Jewelry hunting in creeks and rivers. How do you go about it? For ocean beaches, we look for cuts, types of sand, and tides. What are the tips for finding jewelry around creeks and rivers?
This can be slightly more challenging as we do not write history about lost jewelry. In my experience, just talking to people to help locate where the swimming spots are has been my best resource. I also watch for rope swings hanging from trees and try to find the deep spot near them as I work my way upstream. Unfortunately, there is a large amount of garbage in most recently inhabited areas of rivers and creeks where jewelry and personal items will be found. That being said, I find it fulfilling to remove pounds of trash out of the water in hopes of finding a few ounces of gold and silver.
What is the best setting for the XP Deus II for detecting creeks or rivers for relics, coins, and jewelry?
I would always recommend starting with the general program using factory settings when using a new machine, making sure to do a proper ground balance and frequency scan. Once you have become comfortable with that program, you can start to modify the settings for that program, starting with discrimination and tone settings, then adjusting the more advanced settings. Always start with small changes and only change one setting at a time to see how each change made causes the machine to react on targets. When searching for low conductive jewelry, using high-frequency-based programs, such as Beach or Beach Sens, will make the machine indicate stronger on these targets. When searching for relics, I tend to use a slightly modified version of the deep high conductor program, making sure to identify the target ID for the targets I am desiring. I will set my tones accordingly so that when the display is no longer visible, I will use the audio ID as my discrimination. I would also change the profile screen to the large target ID, giving you the best chance of being able to read the display.
What is the best setting for the Minelab Equinox for detecting creeks or rivers for relics, coins, and jewelry?
While using the Minelab Equinox for jewelry hunting, I tend to use Park 1 or 2, depending on the amount of trash in the area. I will tend to use Park 2 in low trash due to the fact that it processes at higher frequencies, making it more sensitive to gold. Park 1 will work better in heavily polluted areas. It will discriminate more foil-like trash while being more sensitive to coins like targets. Always be sure to ground balance and noise cancel as much as necessary to prevent interference from changing ground conditions and EMI. The Equinox 800 gives you more audio settings, and I would recommend customizing these to your personal preference.
What other metal detecting tips can you give our readers for detecting rivers or creeks?
I have found becoming comfortable in the water has been the biggest factor contributing to my success. Having a good buddy to go with you not only increases your safety, but they can also help to recover those hard-to-reach targets. Start with shallow water, progressively work your way into deeper water, and always wear the appropriate safety devices while in the water. Talk to people you see enjoying the water around you, they may have some knowledge of where people swim or old spots on the river that are worth searching. I have spoken to many people who tell me stories of the jewelry, phones, cameras, and sunglasses they have lost while enjoying their time on the water. Rivers and creeks have provided water, food, recreation, and transportation for decades and will continue to do so. These waterways will be full of history and treasure for decades to come. Have patience, do the research, and in time you will become successful at metal detecting in any environment. Above all, be safe, as the water is more powerful than you may realize, and there is nothing to be found that is worth risking your life for.