Treasure Hunting: How to Find Valuables at the Bottom of a Lake

treasure hunting in a drained lake or pond
Karl-Ludwig Poggemann under Creative Commons

A few years ago, local authorities drained a pond near my house. Walking in the drying mud, my wife and I found several coins in a few minutes. A man with a metal detector had already filled his pockets that morning, and he told us that people had been throwing coins in there for 50 years or more. Some of his finds were old enough to be rare and valuable coins.

This story isn’t unusual — you too can cash in on lake-bottom treasures. When I first read about this “secret” in a tiny-circulation newsletter on treasure hunting, not many people were aware of the potential. Treasure hunters would find out when lakes and ponds were going to be drained or were low from drought, and quietly go collect those valuables.

Curious about finding valuables in drained lakes and waterways? Here’s what you need to know.

Start Your Treasure Hunt Online

Keep an eye on your local news for reports of lakes and ponds that have been or will be drained, or that are low due to drought.

For example, when Berkely Lake in Colorado was drained as part of a highway project a couple years ago, the Denver Post published an online article on treasure hunters who came to hunt with their metal detectors. Phil Larocco found “a cache including 13 rings, a 1935 buffalo nickel, a silver Mercury dime and lots of wheat pennies” in only six hours.

Larocco said that when the lake was low during a drought in 1976, his father found 67 gold and silver rings. When other lakes in the region were drained in the past, discoveries included guns, jewelry, and four safes — one with $517 still in it.

At the time of the Denver Post article, Berkely Lake was still being drained and new lake-bottom would be revealed for weeks to come. In other words, the opportunity hadn’t passed for others to join in the treasure hunt.

Here are a few examples of recent news stories about waterway treasures (and it’s a safe bet that not all finds are reported):

Drained Lake Delhi Revealed Some Treasures: One scavenger found 50 antiques, three rings and an old radio in the mud of this lake in Iowa.

Things Found in the San Antonio River: Periodic draining of sections of the river have revealed skateboards, Mardi Gras beads, old bottles and a cell phone.

Exposed Lake Beds Reveal Treasures: As reservoir levels keep dropping in California, people are finding arrowheads, old grinding mortars, a car and whole towns.

Look for Plans for Future Drainage

It’s best if you know ahead of time when a body of water is going to be drained, so you can prepare. How do you get that information? Google it, of course!

My quick search yielded many prospects. Each of the following search terms produced at least one article about an upcoming draining:

  • reservoir to be drained
  • lake to be drained
  • pond to be drained
  • river to be drained
  • basin to be drained
  • lagoon to be drained

The best results came up when the search terms were in quotation marks. Also, you’ll find additional results if you replace “to be” with “will be” and repeat each search. Generally you’ll get more recent results at the top, but it can help to add “+ 2014” to your searches (or whatever the year is when you’re reading this).

You’ll find some out-of-date results in any case, but there should be plenty of upcoming low-water events whenever you search. For example, my search found an article on the draining of Lake Jean in Benton, Pennsylvania, which is scheduled for early 2015. In California Tioga Lake is being drained as I write this. I also learned about plans to drain lakes and ponds in numerous other states and Canadian provinces.

And don’t forget to watch for reservoirs and other bodies of water that are low due to drought. A search for “lake drying up” and “reservoir drying up” will produce many possibilities. Low rivers are even causing a mini-gold rush in California, by revealing newly-accessible places to pan for gold.

Check Treasure-Hunting Forums

Not all low reservoirs and drained ponds make the news, so where else can you get the scoop in time to act? Online treasure-hunting forums are a good place to start. For example, has a discussion board for “Today’s Finds.” Here are three more forums for treasure hunters:

Gold, jewelry, safes, antiques and rare coins are waiting for you — why not get out there and find some treasure?

Your Turn: Have you ever gone treasure hunting, and are you excited to try it in drained lakes and other bodies of water that are low?