HomeTop StoriesWeapons, bombs, World War II artifacts found during magnet fishing in Michigan

Weapons, bombs, World War II artifacts found during magnet fishing in Michigan

(CBS DETROIT) – For most, fishing is just a fun pastime, but for some, fishing is a way to help the environment and solve crimes.

Magnet fishing is a growing hobby, with people searching bodies of water using magnets.

“I never realized how much trash is at the bottom of our waterways,” says magnet fisherman Jason Vanderwall. “People think our waterways are their personal garbage cans.”

Vanderwall started magnet fishing as a pandemic hobby, a way to get outside with his daughter Avery and help clean up the environment.

Eventually, Vanderwall began posting his finds online, and Motor City Magnet Magnet Fishers was born. They have found 60 bicycles and a few motorcycles and amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on their various social media platforms.

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“I hated fishing regularly,” said Randy Burns.

Burns said he started magnet fishing when he was struggling. His father had recently passed away and he was looking for something to help him through.

“To take my mind off it, get out and enjoy life a little bit again,” Burns said.

Then he came across Vanderwall’s videos and eventually joined him. Burns said they now go fishing every weekend in different parts of Michigan.

“An inch to the left or to the right can make a difference in a good day and a bad day,” he said.

Burns said that with regular fishing you can go all day and not get a bite. But magnet fishing has proven to be fruitful. They’ve pulled out toxic e-scooter batteries, hundreds of yards of fishing line, and even a few pipe bombs.

“History really drives me,” said Burns. “And the idea where you came from. What’s the story behind what we’ve just created.’

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Magnet fishing involves throwing a powerful magnet into the water, dragging it across the bottom and watching what pulls you up.

CBS News Detroit reporter Kelly Vaughen joined them in the Detroit River magnet fishing. With one throw she pulled out handcuffs, a large hunting knife and an old revolver.

CBS News Detroit reporter Kelly Vaughen goes magnet fishing.jpg
CBS News Detroit reporter Kelly Vaughen pulls out a gun, knife and handcuffs and fishes with a magnet with Jason Vanderwall and Randy Burns.

Kelly Vaughen/CBS News Detroit

The Motor City Magnet Fishers found nearly 100 firearms in Michigan. In fact, just a few weeks ago, they found a gun in Lansing that police dive teams were actively looking for.

“I think it was the third or fourth roll. We ended up pulling out that firearm they were looking for,” said Vanderwall. “But it was about 200 yards from where they were looking.”

Whenever they find a gun or possibly explosive, they hand it over to the authorities.

During our morning with the magnet fishermen, we found plenty of other rifle parts, including a shotgun barrel, slide to rifle, and a Glock 9mm magazine.

We also pulled out old keys, track pins, tools and a beeper. They said it’s that feeling of discovering a mystery that has contributed to the spread of magnet fishing around the world. But Detroit is a very good place.

“There’s a lot of history in the Detroit River. I mean, Detroit was founded in 1701. So that’s 322 years of people just throwing trash in the river,” Vanderwall said. “I got a magazine loaded with three rounds from a Boys 55 caliber anti-tank rifle, a British rifle during World War II. So that was really cool.”

They also found a World War II mortar shell and a 1940s Federal-Mogul porcelain plate. The plate is the only find they’ve ever sold.

“I sold it for $350, it was valued at about $650. But the gentleman who bought it from me was a plate collector and I knew it would get a good home, and it wouldn’t just be resold for profit,” Vanderwall said.

But some of their finds can be disturbing.

“We found a dog, someone had drowned him. That was the second dog we found in that park. And both days you go home with your head down, you feel bad and you lose a lot of faith in humanity.”

But the Motor City Magnet Fishers keep coming back for good. Whether it’s cleaning up our waterways, helping a kayaker find their lost keys or finding hidden secrets just below us.

While they’ve found almost anything you can think of, Vanderwall said he hopes to one day find a cannonball from the Revolutionary or Civil War, or even the War of 1812.

He said if you have any interest in magnet fishing give it a try as it is a great way to get out and spend time with your friends and family. It can also be quite a workout with all the throwing and pulling.

Vanderwall said you’ll almost always find something, but if you come up empty-handed, be thankful your waterways are clean.

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