Colt Busch magnet fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Magoon

Tossing a strong magnet into the water to see what metal objects you pull out is more than a hobby gaining in popularity. It’s also a way to clean up waterways.

The practice is known as magnet fishing and it’s been getting a boost thanks to social media attention.

Lewiston’s Colt Busch has been magnet fishing for about three years. He said he first started exploring the hobby after watching magnet fishing YouTube videos by user Bondi Treasure Hunter with his friend.

Busch said he was inspired to start by Andrew Desjardins, who goes by the stage name “Mr. Drew” and travels New England teaching people about rare reptiles and environmental stewardship.

The two met at one of Desjardins events. Desjardins ends all of his presentations with “Mr. Drew’s One Piece Challenge,” where he asks members of the audience to pick up one piece of trash every day for the rest of their lives and properly dispose of it.

“Colt started the magnet all on his own based on my challenge,” Desjardins said. “In a short amount of time, [he] has removed more trash out of Maine waterways than most people will ever do in their lifetime.”

Colt Busch magnet fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Magoon

Since then, Busch has started a YouTube channel of his own called Citizens Magnet Fishing. He sees it as a personal mission to spread the word about magnet fishing and remove pollution from the water.

Over the past few years, Busch has amassed a small group of magnet fishermen and women from around the state, who call themselves the Maine Eco Magnet Fishers, from areas ranging from Westbrook and Portland to Lewiston and Auburn.

“I will basically magnet fish anywhere,” Busch said. “I’m trying to do my part to clean up what man made dirty to Mother Earth. She’s been so good to me and I’m trying to give it back to her.”

What does magnet fishing entail

Magnet fishing is fairly simple: purchase a magnet fishing kit with a strong magnet, toss it into a nearby waterway (from the shore, a bridge or a boat, depending on your druthers) and see what you pull up.

Janine Hastey in Detroit, Maine, said that she has been magnet fishing for just over a year. Like Busch, she first learned about magnet fishing through YouTube, and eventually bought a fishing magnet after seeing an advertisement on Facebook.

“My first find was a bullet,” Hastey said. “After that I found small [things] as nails and screws, fish hooks, sinkers and fishing line, and railroad spikes. I have pulled up street signs, rebar of varying lengths, pipes, window weights, a cash box, fishing pole, shopping cart and even a marble rolling pin that had metal handles.”

Busch has also had a hodgepodge of hauls, from shopping carts to historical artifacts, like half of a pair of scissors from the mill in Lewiston. Once, he even pulled a fire extinguisher out of the water and accidentally set it off.

“I have pulled up 52 bikes so far out of the waters,” Busch said. “I’ve pulled two drones so far out of the waters. It’s fun. When you go out there, it’s like regular fishing — you don’t know what you’re going to catch.”

Colt Busch magnet fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Magoon

Busch said that he keeps some of his small finds, but usually, he’ll put out a call on social media after he hauls scrap out of the water for whoever might want to take it to a scrap metal place for money.

“The scrap is turned in for cash, and the trash, well, goes to trash or recycling,” Hastey said. “I have an individual that is interested in railroad spikes that he turns into knives. Most fishers will not only take metal out of water, we also clean up trash along the shore, bridges and the area fished at.”

Location also matters for magnet fishing. Hastey said she likes fishing off of bridges the best, but “any body of water that [she] can stand beside will work.” Busch said that no matter where you go, scouting out a location beforehand is important.

“See if there’s a lot of rocks, see if there’s a lot of branches,” he recommended. “If you go out and you see that, it’s more likely that you can get snagged. The bridges are my favorite because you can look down and if it’s really low you can see what you’re hooking onto if it’s a nice sunny day.”

The future of magnet fishing

Conservation groups have taken notice of magnet fisher people’s efforts. Michael Shaughnessy, president of the Board of the Friends of the Presumpscot River, said that he has kicked in helping the magnet fishers haul their catches to the metal recycler.

“It is most heartening to see these folks emerge that care enough about the river, and rivers, to do the work of helping clean it up,” Shaughnessy said. “It is a powerful and sad reminder when we see the amount of material removed of just how little regard rivers have been shown. Acts like this help build awareness of how we need to be better stewards of our rivers.”

Colt Busch magnet fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Magoon

Busch has big ideas for what’s next for magnet fishing in Maine. He hopes to someday lead school field trips, and hopes that the magnet fishing population will continue to grow in Maine — not just because it’s a fun hobby, but because the more people magnet fish, the more sites he can find to clean up.

“We just want to basically clean up the waters as much as we can because there’s so much trash in the water,” Busch said. “We want to start in Maine to clean up the waters in Maine and we want to go to New Hampshire. We want to do other states, eventually.”