By George Anderson

My adventure started the day I arrived in Happy Camp, California, a small town located on the Klamath River, and headquarters for The New 49’ers Prospecting Organization.

My first order of business was to join The New 49’ers, so I went to the headquarters, and after paying my membership dues and signing a few papers I was asked to go on a tour of the more than 50 miles of claims that I now had access to. It was that simple. The gentleman who took me on the tour was very knowledgeable about claim locations, boundaries, camping areas, club rules and regulations, and those stretches of the river that he felt would be good dredging for my size dredge. On the tour we stopped often as he would point out access points, newly-exposed bedrock from this past winter’s flood, and newly-deposited gravel bars that looked like good prospects.

After the tour I spent the rest of the day looking for what I felt would be the ideal place to dredge. To help me in my search I had been given an indexed list of each claim, which included a detailed description of the location, access, camping, maps, and information about the prospecting and dredging potential. This information proved to be invaluable in my assessment of the many different stretches of river and tributaries I was interested in dredging.

After a few hours of looking at, and reading about, the claims I had access to, I found a stretch of river that looked to me like an ideal place for placer gold to deposit. It was a submerged gravel bar located on the inside of a bend, just downriver from a high pressure area. There were large boulders half-buried, sticking out from the bank. I knew these boulders would make low pressure eddies behind them during high water. The high water during this last winter’s floods laid the trees at the river’s edge right down. 20 feet up the bank in this particular area I could picture that raging water running over these boulders, and hopefully carrying gold to be deposited in the low pressure areas behind them. This looked like a textbook location to find a good placer gold deposit.

So on the following day, after setting up camp I pulled my dredge to the river’s edge, put it together, put the rest of my gear on the pontoons, and suited up. Then I floated it across the river to a point just behind a large boulder that stuck out from the bank about 3 feet. This boulder was also dug into the bank about 3 feet and had saplings growing around it, which told me it had been there a few years.

I started dredging about 6 feet downstream of the boulder, moving forward and down as I dredged. When I got to the boulder I was beneath it. As I dredged the last foot of material from behind it I saw a beautiful nugget wedged between the boulder and another rock. I pulled the nozzle away, plucked the nugget from between the rocks and held it in front of my mask. It was the prettiest nugget I’ve ever seen, and later weighed in at 2.2 pennyweight. Underwater it looked like it weighed a half-ounce, which really added to my excitement!

After I regained my senses I placed the nugget on top of the boulder and kept dredging. After just a few more passes with the nozzle, and about a foot from the outer edge of the boulder I saw about 8 pieces of shale standing on end, spaced about 1 inch apart. I made another pass, and there in front of my eyes were four more nice nuggets! Now, by this time I was really getting excited, and thinking I’d hit the Mother Lode. I lay there staring at them until my breathing returned to normal. It was a sight I’ll never forget. So, after relishing in the moment, I plucked them from their hiding place and sat them

on top of the boulder, also. The largest of these weighed 1.6 pennyweight. That evening while panning out the material from the sluice box I recovered 5 matchhead-sized nuggets and a bunch of nice pickers. My first day of dredging had proved to be very rewarding–I’d recovered more than 6 pennyweight of gold from this one test hole! I was really looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

The next morning I decided to drop back to see where the end of this paystreak started, so I moved the dredge downriver and punched another test hole. After a few hours I found just a few pickers, so I moved forward to just downstream of my first test hole and dredged into it. I made it longer and wider. I dredged behind, under and around the boulder and found one more nugget and quite a few pickers. Before I felt it was unsafe it undermine it much more, I decided to move upriver to the next boulder.

I punched a hole to bedrock, which was about 4 feet deep, behind this second boulder. I found a shale-like seam about a foot wide and rough, inset about 2 inches below the surrounding bedrock. I really started getting excited with anticipation, knowing this was another textbook location for gold to deposit. I hastily dredged a 4-foot-square area above the seam down to bedrock, leaving a few inches of material covering the seam, and after waiting a minute for my sluice box to clear I dredged the seam material out. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered there wasn’t any gold in the seam. It’s my belief that someone beat me to this spot, due to the lack of any hard-packed material over the seam. I also saw an area to the inside of this seam, consisting of a cement-like material (caliche), where it appeared to me that some had used a pry bar to break it apart. I did pull a couple of nuggets and a few pickers from this hole, but not what I was hoping for.

The next day I dropped back to the end of the gravel bar where I had spotted 4 large boulders. By large I mean they were as big as a dresser and twice as wide. These boulders were wedged against each other in a horseshoe configuration and about half-buried. This looked to me like another good place for gold to deposit. As I started dredging I hit a semi-hard packed material just a couple of feet down, and could see small nuggets lying amongst the large rocks. Within an hour I found a beautiful 3/4-pennyweight nugget, just behind the first large boulder I came to. I dredged here for the next few days, going around this horseshoe configuration of boulders, from about 4 feet out to under and in-between them, recovering a lot of gold. I would check my sluice box every couple of hours, gold pan and tweezers in hand, and was always rewarded with five or six pickers for my effort. All in all I recovered 19-7 pennyweight from the six test holes I dredged.

In conclusion I feel this particular gravel bar has good gold throughout, but that the paystreak runs 2-4 feet deep. I didn’t have time to see how far out in the gut the paystreak ran. I’ll have to determine that the next time, but I do know it looks pretty rich along the bank to 10 feet out, as all my test holes had a good showing, except for maybe the fourth one I punched on the seam towards the front of the gravel bar.

I had a great time dredging in the Klamath River country. And, I plan on returning very soon. I want to thank the people at The New 49’ers for this opportunity, and their help. I met some really nice people there, while dredging, especially Jerry H., a true prospector and friend who makes the best hobo coffee in the world. Good luck to you all. Hope to see you real soon!