magnet fishing vs. metal detecting

Magnet Fishing vs Metal detecting (7 Important Differences!)

magnet fishing vs metal detecting

Magnet fishing and metal detecting are two different activities that have many common points and some differences!

I’ve noticed that some hobbyists don’t realize the main difference, that’s why I’ve chosen to address that here.

In this Post, I go a quite deep in those differences so you will have a good understanding on what makes each activity unique.


Metal detecting as an activity is much older than magnet fishing! The latter just started to appear in the last few years …

This makes metal detecting the most popular hobby overall!

However, Magnet fishing has gained a ton of popularity in the last 3 years or so, not only because it is a simple activity that doesn’t require many gear upfront, but also, because a Ton of dedicated Youtube channels were created recently that became really popular.

If we look at the number of fan clubs and community groups online and on various social media platforms, metal detecting seems to be a more popular hobby.

Used Equipment

When it comes to the equipment, all you need to start magnet fishing is:

This makes the process of getting started much simpler!

On the other hand, metal detecting needs you to buy more gear to get started, such as a metal detector (which can be quite expensive), headphones, extra search coils, shovels, and so on.

Some of the main tools you need for metal detecting include:

  • Metal detector
  • Different search coils to adjust to different frequencies
  • Coil covers
  • Batteries
  • Pinpointer
  • Shovel
  • Headphones

Some of the tools needed for magnet fishing include:

Technical knowledge

One of the best things about magnet fishing is its simplicity. You simply need to get a neodymium-magnet, a good rope, and you are ready to start treasure hunting.

However, when it comes to metal detecting, you cannot find much success without understanding how a detector works. You need to have some technical know-how about the following:

  • Understanding how a search coil works
  • Knowledge about frequencies of the detector
  • Understanding ground mineralization and how it can affect the performance of your metal detector
  • Understanding how ground balance works and what happens in different types of ground conditions
  • How does the detector detect a target?
  • In what pattern to move your detector in order to increase the chances of finding something

Potential finds

You could find a wide variety of items when you are out metal detecting, including unique coins, antique objects, gold, and more if you are lucky.

Some of the finds that people commonly locate with a metal detector include:

  • Coins – these can include both silver and gold ones, as well as both modern and rare ones
  • Civil War artifacts
  • Jewelry – this is one of the most common finds you can expect to get, especially in crowded locations.
  • Pocket knives
  • Bottle caps
  • War bullets
  • Lighters
  • Printing plates
  • Belt buckles and buttons – these are everyday metal items that were worn in the past. They are not common today, so most antique collectors get very excited at finding these.
  • Glass bottles – as unlikely it seems, but antique glass bottles are also found with metal detectors. This is possible due to the metal cap or closure that the detector finds.
  • Heirlooms, toys, and home decor – family heirlooms, home decor items such as ornaments, picture frames, tableware, mirrors, and precious metal toys are also found frequently.
  • Military items such as musket balls, shrapnel, arrowheads, etc.

Some have found very antique coins, rare collectible items, and even objects of historic importance while metal detecting, though this is a rare occurence.

Common finds from magnet fishing are usually less exciting than striking gold or jewelry. The most common find is usually a fishing hook or nail. Some of the commonly found objects while magnet fishing include:

  • Coins
  • Cash boxes
  • Knives
  • Guns
  • Dog tags
  • Nails
  • Tools
  • Fishing Hooks
  • Bikes
  • Lures
  • Scissors
  • Barbed Wire

Some of the lesser common finds while magnet fishing may include:

  • Cannon balls
  • Machine guns
  • Antiques
  • Roman coins
  • Bombs


Both activities have the potential to be significantly profitable, but the probability of that happening is quite low!

Since most of us spend most of our time on land instead of water, it is fair to say that this makes metal detecting a more profitable activity.

Even if you remove rare occurrences or sheer luck, on average, there is still a better chance of finding higher value items while metal detecting instead of magnet fishing.

Magnet fishing, though, might not be as profitable when it comes to making money on a day-to-day basis.

Nevertheless, when you finally do find a rare treasure, it tends to be very high in value. This is more common with ocean magnet fishing because of the massive size and scope to find treasure.


You can technically practice magnet fishing at any place that has a water body. However, some water bodies are better than others, such as those that are not too deep and not too muddy. At the same time, it is important to target places that are usually crowded, such as urban areas or historical towns.

Some of the best locations for magnet fishing include:

  • Under bridges
  • Old wells
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Ponds
  • Creeks
  • Dams
  • Canals
  • Sewers

While you can metal detect at random, some locations are more likely to yield valuable finds. Some of the top sites for metal detecting include:

  • Your own front and back yard
  • School grounds
  • Old Drive-In Theaters
  • City Parks
  • Beaches
  • Renaissance Fairs and Fair Grounds
  • Camp Grounds
  • Churches
  • Ghost Towns
  • Old barns


In the US, at present, there are no broad state, federal, or local laws that govern magnet fishing (Please note that this could change in the future).

There is no ban on magnet fishing in any water body across the country.

However, when it comes to metal detecting, hobbyists have to follow many laws. If you are new to metal detecting or if you are planning to go metal detecting in a new country or state or even a new city, then it is of utmost importance that you learn the laws surrounding metal detecting in the new place.

Before you begin digging anywhere, you need to be sure that you won’t break any laws.

If you have not gotten the required permit for digging at your selected site, then you could be looking at a hefty fine, a felony offense, or even land up in jail.

Find out as much as you can about metal detecting laws, and always get the requisite permits when and where required before you start hunting and digging.

Final Thoughts: How Fun are these hobbies?

Magnet fishing and metal detecting are fun activities done only by passionate enthusiasts who love the adventure involved.

Both activities are fund for hobbyists because of the treasures you can find. While magnet fishing is simpler, it can be more physically demanding.

However, magnet fishing also rewards you with bigger treasures, though the adventure will be more dangerous as well.

On the other hand, metal detecting is more complicated and requires more gear to get started, which can rapidly increase the overall cost involved.

About the Author

Carissa Harmer

Carissa is the huge metal detecting enthusiast that loves collecting coins. She is also highly interested in other treasure hunting activities like magnet fishing and gold prospecting/panning.