Is Metal Detecting in Creeks Worth It?

Metal detecting in creeks can be enjoyable and many times lucrative with the right gear. I have some valuable tips to share with you.

Metal Detecting in creeks is certainly worth it. It opens up a world you don’t experience on drier land. You’ll find different and quite interesting artifacts including round musket balls, coins, knives, fishing gear, nautical items, gold, and more.

One of the reasons creeks produce such interesting finds is history. Early settlers built their homes near sources of water. So creeks, streams, and rivers span decades, perhaps centuries, of people tromping around near and in them as they lived, cooled off, fished, etc. That said, let’s take a more detailed look at metal detectingOpens in a new tab. in creeks (and most of this applies to river metal detecting along banks and larger streams as well.)

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Safety First

Safety is key when you’re near and in the water. Depending on where you live, certain situations arise when on creek banks and near shallow water. Be careful and have a fun day.

Slippery rocks, submerged items or pockets in the underwater rock/sand can lead to twisted ankles.

Snakes and alligators are certainly hazardous to safety and life. Know your local surroundings.

Tree roots, tree branches, and vines can trip you or distract you.

There is a possibility of finding metal or lost fishing tackle that could be rusty, so use a good pair of gloves.

Water temperatures could be uncomfortable if you’re submerged knee or waist-high too long. Be aware of that.

Rivers can carry pollution, be careful with cuts. A small first aid kit is worth adding to your pack.

Finally, people dump the strangest things in the water, so another reason to protect your hands with gloves and use a long handle scoopOpens in a new tab. like this one on Amazon.

Tips for Creek Detecting

  • Use a water-proof detector unless you’re just hunting the dry banks. Remember that slipping on a rock and dropping your detector is bad! If you’re on a budget, at least get a detector with a waterproofOpens in a new tab. coil.
  • Use a detector with good discrimination so you know what targets to pass on.
  • Bring something to scoop with, even a sand scoopOpens in a new tab. can work, short or long-handled depending on the depth of water you’ll be in. A sand scoop with a long handle is often referred to as a sand scoop shovel.
  • If you’re in freshwater, a VLF (very low frequency) detector is best. A PI detector would workOpens in a new tab. better for salt water.
  • Consider using a pinpointer. If hunting in the water versus just the banks, of course get one made for in-water use. Here’s one on AmazonOpens in a new tab. that has good reviews and is usable to 32 feet.
  • To find once-historically populated areas near creeks, consult old maps of the area.
  • Where have people been? Swimming holes, creek crossings, old bridge sites at creeks or streams are places people would have been and therefore lost stuff.
  • Ground balance your metal detectorOpens in a new tab. when you get to the hunt site to improve chances of picking up targets and not have them masked out by minerals in the water or soil.


If in doubt about the creek, stream, river, or lake you plan to detect at, do some research and ask for permission as required. There are a lot of areas you don’t need permission for, but it’s best to look into it first.

You can start at the township, city, and county levels where you live.

Typically, creeksOpens in a new tab. that run through public areas (even in state parks) are ok, but it’s up to you to check, or you risk angry people or possible confiscation of what you find and/or your detector by authorities. This topic is a whole separate thing and should not deter you from the hobby. Just perform your due diligence.

Things Found

In no way an exhaustive list, but these are actual items that have been found in and around creeks:

Animal traps, round bullets, horseshoes, guns, Confederate relics, coins, a cannon, old war rifle, horse stirrups, civil war sword, caches of coins, medallions, dog license/tag, padlocks, Civil War 3-ring bullet, phones, and rings!

Creek Gold

Gold forms in veins within rocks and minerals. That formation has nothing to do with water. However, rock erosion and cracking can expose these veins. Further erosion, coupled with floods or heavy rains can begin to wash the small particles into creeks, streams, or rivers.

As the gold gets pushed along by the water, it collects where the water slows down, such as the inside curves of a river, behind large boulders, or where two flowing bodies of water meet. The gold is heavy relative to other particles in the water and can also drop through sand until it hits bedrock.

metal detecting in creeks
Look for potential gold at changes in flow direction

The gold in the water is usually small in size and amount, and appears as flakes or grains. This is called “alluvial gold” and can be located by using a metal detector designed to find gold. Once detected, you may also find a waterproof pinpointer useful to precisely find the target’s resting place.

Many times, a pick comes in handy to break apart any rock that’s keeping you from extracting the gold from crevices. Once found, you’ll need some panning and grading tools and skills, though it is possible to find some gold in the material you scooped just based on its distinct color. Even still, you need to cleanly separate if from the surrounding material to store it safely with other pieces you’ve found.

Metal Detector Technology for Gold

Very Low Frequency VLF: VLF detectorsOpens in a new tab. designed for gold hunting can best find small nuggets that are not deep. They’re not great with highly mineralized ground but are good on bedrock with dirt removed from overtop. Ground balancing your detector for the onsite conditions can help.

Pulse Induction PI: A Pulse Induction metal detector works with a different technology that can look deeper to detect medium/large gold. They’re not much good for the small pieces that a VLF detector can find, but they do handle highly mineralized ground very well. With a PI machine, you can move through a mineralized area quickly to find bigger pieces of gold, if there are any.

Best Metal Detector for Creeks

Hard to say, because it’s a personal choice and models change every year. Your best bet is to search on “best metal detectors for shallow water” and limit the search to the past year.

Just remember, you don’t need a fully waterproof detector for shallow freshwater, just a waterproof coil. However, if you think you’re liable to drop your detector and get the control box in the water, then go full waterproof. The only thing is they’re more expensive.

Footwear for Metal Detecting at Creeks, Streams, Lakes, Rivers

(Not to be confused with the idea of metal detecting footwear, as in the footwear contains a metal detector… really, they exist)

If your plan is to walk the water’s edge without getting into the water, then sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes will do. If you plan to actually be in the water, you’ll want something that can air-dry easily in order to last and not smell bad over time.

Hunting in and around creeks (streams, river edge, etc.) can be a little treacherous. Slippery rocks, sharp rocks, rusty metal, glass can all present problems. So you want to wear something sturdy that grips well and protects at least your feet and perhaps your ankles as well.

If you choose a sandal, a good protective feature is an enclosed toe. This will help prevent injury if you stub your toe on a rock or something unseen in muddy water.

Below I’ve provided a useful selection of footwear offerings on Amazon that cover the features mentioned here.

Tip: Since you’re metal detecting, try not to choose footwear that contains metal. It kinda goes without saying. You may get some false alerts as you bring the detector coilsOpens in a new tab. by your foot.

Hiking/Tactical Footwear

Water Shoes

Wrapping things up

Here’s a fun video from the nugggetnoggin YouTube channel that shows many of the items I’ve mentioned, such as in-water and creek-side hunting, a waterproof detector and pinpointer, gloves and footwear, interesting finds, danger of slipping, and more.

Note that he’s also using a headset on one ear, which helps him hear fainter signals but also allows him to hear his surroundings. (So, in the video you can’t hear the signals he hears, but you can see the display and he explains things very well)

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