Commentary: The Magnetic Attraction -- Fishing the Anthropocene
Magnet fishing is a craze attracting fishers from all walks of life. And if you’re new to magnet fishing, I’m not referring to fishing for lost refrigerator magnets from underneath your fridge, though that might be the next sport to give pickleball a bit of competition.
I got hooked on magnet fishing about a year ago, and despite the name, this activity has little to do with fish and all to do with fishing.
Magnet fishing is the act of casting a large magnet on a rope into a body of water to retrieve magnetic treasures, but realistically one usually reels in unique garbage. Over the past year that I've been magnet fishing, I have caught large rusty nails 4 or 5 inches long from wooden docks that are no longer in existence, I’ve hooked square nails and flat head screws, both of those are fun to try to estimate their age by looking up their likeness online.
I’ve landed enough fishing paraphernalia to fill a tackle box; some of which is usable daredevils and spinner baits, while others are pieces of hooks, sinkers, barrel swivels, metal from a bobber, wire leaders, and partial lures. Some of these were attached to yards and yards of fishing line and each of which I’m sure has an accompanying story of the one that got away.
I should pause here to say, if you’re listening to this, you may also want to check out the web version of this story, as it includes photos of my magnet fishing finds. These photos feature bits of barbed wire, springs, indiscernible shapes of rusted metal, and a license plate from the 1930s, although, I must admit, the license plate was found underground with a metal detector and unearthed with a shovel. Perhaps metal detecting will be my next Tri States Public Radio commentary.
And you can be the judge of which of these finds is worthy of the title “catch of the year.” My vote is for the 17 lbs. red boat anchor that was so slimy and gunk ridden that it took two magnets to haul in.
Now that I’ve been magnet fishing for some time, I have a bucket list of sorts of things I’d like to catch one day. This list includes a horseshoe, a bicycle, an earring from Elton John, a set of keys, preferably ones that were just lost where the owner is still in the vicinity. I feel like a cast iron skillet would be a fun one to try to reel in, catching a fishing pole and reel would be meta, and I’d love to go magnet fishing in a country where the coin currency is magnetic.
If you’re feeling that magnet fishing is a hobby you’d like to try, let me share some tips I’ve learned to get you started off on the right … magnetic pole. You can purchase a magnet fishing kit, and the benefit of this is that the rope comes with a carabiner to allow you to quickly switch between using a magnet and a grappling hook, which is another useful tool for helping to hall in objects that may not be fully magnetic.
For example, I did magnet fish in Canada this past summer, nearly landing a shopping cart on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. What held me back was not the need for a fishing license or that I had reached my daily limit of shopping carts. It was the fact that this was a blue plastic shopping cart and I could only get my magnet on the wheels or the handle bar. At the time, I did not own a grappling hook or second magnet and rope, either of which would have helped in this endeavor, although, to be honest, I don’t know what I would have done with a muddy, corroded shopping cart if I had landed that beauty.
I find it useful to keep containers for recyclables and trash, because much of magnet fishing is removing detritus left in the anthropocene. This is one of the feel good parts about magnet fishing, cleaning up a body of water while being out in nature and enjoying the excitement of the next unknown catch. The mystery of the next object to be hauled up from the depths.
I also like to keep a knife or scissors to cut fishing line, gloves to protect myself from cuts and dirt, and a must-have is a container for sharp objects, especially fishing hooks. Even when rusty, hooks are still excellent at what they do.
It’s fun to use the same phrases from fishing for fish to describe magnet fishing, like getting a nibble, or “oh that’s whopper,” or my favorite from childhood was my parent yelling, “Get the net, get the net,” whenever me or my siblings had a big fish on the line. Of course, sometimes as young kids, that big fish was just us hooked on the bottom of the lake.
Getting one’s magnet caught also happens, although instead of getting caught on the bottom, on seaweed, or logs, it’s usually wedging one’s magnet in between two rocks, and yes, I have found myself going swimming to help get my magnet unstuck.
One of my favorite parts about magnet fishing is the detective work that goes into finding a good spot to fish. Perhaps near a boat launch, a creek near farm houses, by a former pier or dock, and there’s always good magnet fishing in spots where a lot of people have been fishing for actual fish. But I typically avoid those areas if there are people actively trying to catch fish, as the sploosh of my magnet might be an unwelcome guest.
Now that I’ve shared a bit about my newest hobby, I hope I’ll see some of you out there on the water. Magnet fishing is one activity that reeled me in. It caught me in the fun from my very first bite; hook, line and … magnet!
Jade Kastel (she/her) is the music librarian, an assistant professor, and the libraries' diversity officer at Western Illinois University.
She is also the 2023 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year selected by the Illinois Library Association.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or WIU.
Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.