By Brad Jones
When it comes to gold fever, there’s no doubt that Ken Martinez has a bad case of it. And, when it comes to metal detectors, he’s been feelin’ the bite of the Fisher Gold Bug 2.
Though Martinez admits he was initially skeptical of the Gold Bug 2’s analog technology, his cache of small nuggets is all the proof he needs to dismiss any doubts about this super-high frequency metal detector.
Martinez, 44, who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif., began detecting about four years ago.
“I grew up near the beaches. As a kid, I would see these guys walking up and down the beaches with their metal detectors. I was always curious and wanted to find treasure, so I watched what they were doing,” he said. “All these years go by ... and I just decided that I wanted to get into metal detecting and gold prospecting. I still live near the beach so I decided to go ahead and take up the hobby.”
After doing his research and getting his hands on a detector, Martinez was convinced he was going to find treasure.
“My first day, I found a diamond ring,” he said. “So it started very, very well. It had about 15 little diamond chips in it. It’s a low-end ring. You can get the same ring for about $700 ... The funny thing is that when I brought the ring home, my daughter took it immediately and said she was going to keep it, so I found her a matching set of earrings.”
His daughter, Chloe-Symone, was about 16 years old at the time.
“It made her happy. It was my first day out, and I couldn’t believe it, or actually, I did believe it. I found it because that is what I thought would happen,” Martinez said. “I thought you just swing your metal detector and stuff happens immediately. I later learned that isn’t always true. Sometimes, you just get lucky.”
The learning curve
For the most part, Martinez’s metal detecting skills have-been self-taught, although as a project manager for the electronics division of a major toy company, he had a leg up.
“I learned on my own. For a few months, once I got the bug to really do it, I did a lot of research on what metal detectors I wanted and what was in my price range,” he said. “I looked at a lot of YouTube videos, and I’ve been into the Gold Fever show for many years. I got some tips, and a good buzz off of watching that show.”
After about six months, Martinez felt he had a good handle on beach detecting and was eager to hunt for the gold nuggets like he had seen on TV.
“I knew I was going to start at the beach and ultimately move on into the desert. Once I felt like I had it down at the beach and I understood what my machine was telling me, I decided to go to the desert,” he said.
He joined the Gold Prospectors Association of America, and the San Fernando Valley GPAA Chapter, headed up by Patrick Keene of Keene Engineering.
“It was great. The first day I was out I didn’t find a nugget, but the funny thing is that I stopped at a certain point, and about two hours later a guy went right past where I was walking and about five feet away found a nice two-and-a-half gram nugget,” he said. “It just killed me that I didn’t walk an extra five feet because I might have found that nugget.”
It was then that Martinez really began to beat the learning curve.
“I made friends right away with a good group of guys — friends I still keep today. My core prospecting buddies are the guys I met on that first trip,” he said. “They basically said that I won’t find a nugget every day that I’m detecting, but if I put in the time detecting, I will find nuggets.”
The Gold Bug 2
Though Martinez learned using other brands and models of detectors, he attributes much of his recent success at nugget shooting to the Fisher Gold Bug 2, particularly for finding small nuggets at a shallow depth. But, strangely enough, the Gold Bug 2 — because of its older look, analog control panel and older technology — wasn’t the most appealing choice for Martinez.
“It was one model I was thinking about getting, but because the Gold Bug 2 is known for small, shallow gold, I was looking for something that was more all-around. So, after I learned my first detector, I moved on to another one that I thought was a little bit better,” Martinez said.
“Unfortunately, a friend had passed away, and his family was selling off his prospecting gear. So, to help the family out, I went ahead and bought some of the prospecting gear that they had for sale. One of the items was the Gold Bug 2,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t know how much I was going to love the machine. Shortly after using it — probably two outings — it became my primary machine just because it is so good. It feels good. It acts like you want it to. It’s intuitive for an analog machine. So, it’s kind of funny how I got into using this machine. It was almost by mistake ... It kind of landed in my lap.”
Still, Martinez admits not having the digital display, such as that of the Gold Bug Pro model, bothered him at first.
“Yeah, it did, especially since I know a little about electronics, and I know that the digital world really works. But, I also know that analog really works as well, if you know what you are doing,” he said. “I wasn’t looking at going with the Gold Bug 2, but one day I hooked the swing on just so I could check it out. I definitely didn’t want to go analog at all. I wanted to stay digital because I thought it could pick up signals better, discriminate better and I thought that the ground balancing was going to be better until I used the Gold Bug 2. All of a sudden, it changed my mind as to what I wanted in a machine. With the digital detectors, you introduce a ton of human error and subjectivity in your algorithms, and the Gold Bug 2 doesn’t have that. So, when you get a machine like the Gold Bug 2 that just works, and it works as well as it does, you just get the hit.”
‘It just works’
Although the Gold Bug 2 was built with 1990s technology, Martinez trusts it not to miss small nuggets.
“It just works. You can definitely tell there is a nugget under your coil. It’s a smooth-running machine, easy to operate, and it definitely finds the gold. I’ve found way more gold with that machine than with any other machine I’ve ever swung. There’s nothing about it that I don’t like — other than I wish it could go 10 feet deep,” he said. “I love the machine because it just really works.”
The secret to the success and longevity of the Gold Bug 2 is largely attributed to ultra-high operating frequency, one of the highest — if not the highest— of all VLF units on the market. The 71 kHz operating frequency gives increased sensitivity to smaller, deeper nuggets even in highly mineralized soil. With the Gold Bug 2’s audio boost and iron discrimination mode, you can hear those faint, deep signals while avoiding hot rocks and ferrous targets.
The Gold Bug 2 comes with a 10-inch elliptical shielded search coil that is lighter, covers more ground and gets into tighter places than a circular coil, with optional 6.5-inch or 14-inch elliptical coil. Its low-noise, precision-matched, temperature-compensated components and well-built circuitry, make the Gold Bug 2 one of the most trusted detectors in the world.
Most skilled nugget shooters will tell you that having confidence in your metal detector is half the battle. You have to be able to trust your machine in the field.
“The Gold Bug 2 gives me the confidence that every time I go out if there is gold, I will find it. It stays in tune and it’s quite easy to ground balance. It doesn’t have an awful lot of false triggers whereas other machines might have a little static or they’re harder to discriminate,” Martinez said. “The Gold Bug 2 is extremely easy on discrimination, and when you put the coil over metal and you hit that discrimination mode, it shuts up immediately. It no longer gives you a sound unless it’s big and rusty or something like that. Other machines don’t exhibit that kind of behavior. When I have gold under it, and I hit discrimination mode — no matter how small that piece of gold is — it’s going to chime off just like it did when I was in standard mode. For that, I love the machine. I can stick a six-penny nail and hit discrimination and that six-penny nail disappears. You can’t beat that. No other machine that I’ve used will do that. I want it quiet, and if I do get a signal, I want to be able to hit that discrimination, and have the confidence that if it makes a noise that there is a piece of gold under my coil.”
What sound do you want to hear?
“I’m listening for a nice, smooth, even ZIP! ZIP! You don’t want anything that is going to taper away, anything like that and you know that’s pretty much not gold and then you discriminate on it and see what it does. I want something that hits hard ... You want to get that sound,” Martinez said. “There’s a little bit of threshold in the background. I like to describe it as a little gnat right there behind me. So, when I tune it in, I’m trying to get that little gnat sound, and then I’m good to go. I’m listening for any slight change in the threshold — of course, I want that ZIP! ZIP! ZIP! But, as I’m detecting, if I get that little hum and then there is a change in the threshold, I’ll move that little layer of dirt right next to my feet, and see if I can get any type of signal. If I don’t get a signal or I get that break in the hum, then I know I’ve moved something aside, right then and there. What I might do is just take that scoop and put it in my pouch, and pan it out later because that is going to be something really small at the surface. As a matter of fact, the last time I was out about two months ago that’s how I found gold. It was exactly that way ... I just grabbed that dirt and threw it in my pouch and I ended up finding three very small pieces of gold in it,”
Detector of choice
Though he usually packs his arsenal of metal detectors when he heads out to the goldfields, Martinez knows the Gold Bug 2 has become his detector of choice
“I always take them with me, and if I do use them, I end up going back to the Gold Bug 2. I bought a brand new machine just before I got the Gold Bug 2, and I found one nugget with that machine, and it was a good nugget. When I got the Gold Bug 2, I kept it in the truck for a little bit, but now I hardly ever use my other machines.”
Recently, Martinez decided to put the Gold Bug 2 to the test.
“I went out a few months back, and I decided I wanted to go over this grid to get a really good feel on it, so I started with my old machine,” he said. “I gridded it out, and then went to the Gold Bug 2, and it found so much more than my other machine that I don’t know if I’ll ever bring that other machine again.”
VLF versus PI
While there’s no doubt there is a difference in the Very Low Frequency (VLF) and newer Pulse Induction detectors, there is also a stark difference in price — essentially hundreds of dollars versus thousands.
“Yeah, there is a cost factor,” Martinez said. “If I had the money to go with a PI detector, I probably would, but I don’t have that kind of scratch to spend. And anyway, even if I did have it, I think I would still swing the Gold Bug 2 because I don’t think you can beat the Gold Bug 2 for small, shallow gold nuggets. I don’t think there is anything out there that can beat it for small, shallow gold.”
Recent gold finds
After drywashing and collecting a small vial of gold flakes at a weekend outing near Quartzsite, Ariz. last spring, Martinez decided to go out swinging.
He nabbed 11 pieces of gold and small nuggets with his Gold Bug 2 in two days.
“They are all specimen pieces other than what I got drywashing,” he said. “And the very first one, which was the biggest nugget that I have, is just the coolest looking specimen when you hold it up close and take a look at it.”
While detecting, sometimes Martinez just breaks all the rules. He just gets that feverish feeling, and goes with instinct.
“Nobody thought there was any gold and quartz up on the side of that hill. But, because I had read some stuff in books about an old guy who said, ‘Gold comes from the mountain, no matter what,’ I went up there. I had a gut feeling ... I wanted to go up on the hill where nobody had really been before,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to go off the beaten path ... I’m going. I don’t care if they found some gold over here or over there, I’m going where I believe it might be. I may or may not find it, but I always think that if I don’t find anything at least I know where it isn’t.”
So far, following his instincts have paid off.
“The first nugget piece I got was about a gram-and-a-half,” Martinez said. “I was absolutely elated. I came down and showed everybody that there’s gold up there. ‘You guys come on up!’ ”
Every piece of gold was in quartz, and some had a crystalline quality.
“It was the first time I ever had enough confidence to believe that if I keep swinging, I’m going to find another one. I just knew it,” he said. “I never have had that kind of experience before ... There were about seven other guys on that hill who couldn’t find gold. I was the only one swinging the Gold Bug 2.”
Tips & tricks
There’s no better way to learn about metal detecting than to do your research and talk to detectorists who consistently find gold. But as well as listening to experienced nugget shooters and one’s instincts, you’ll need to practice listening to your machine to be successful in the goldfields.
Gold is where you find it
Gold detecting is more than just science; it’s an art. Though he considers gold geology and reads the lay of land, studying where gold ought to be, Martinez has also learned to trust his instincts and his detector.
“You always kind of go with the places that are obvious. It could be a bend in the road that used to be a riverbed or some bedrock or a tunnel, and you might start there. But, especially in Southern California, those places are pretty picked over. So, what I do is I start looking around at the terrain where I am and I’ll just start exploring,” he said. “And, that’s another reason why I love metal detecting so much — I love to explore and I like to just kind of look at things from a different perspective. Metal detecting allows you to do that.”
• Adjust your detector for trash and terrain
The terrain and the area will kind of decide how your machine will be set up. Obviously, you want to have the highest sensitivity, but you can’t always do that if you are in an area with high trash or hot rocks.
“It just depends on where you are and your ground balance is going to change even in real time as you are walking across the desert,” Martinez said. “You have to listen to what the machine is telling you, and you want the machine to be as quiet as you can get it. What I mean by that is you always want your threshold noise but as soon as your machine starts acting erratically, you’ve got to make an adjustment — first in your ground balance to make sure you are still in balance. If you’re still in balance, then you’re going to want to reduce your sensitivity a little bit. And, quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever been in an area where the highest sensitivity works. Your highest sensitivity, when you are talking about mineralization, is going to have to be in a place where there is no mineralization, which virtually doesn’t exist anywhere.”
• Keep your search coil close to the ground
When you’re out detecting, it’s easy to lose focus and lift your search coil too far off the ground, but positioning your coil even a few inches too high can mean losing a target.
“I get as close to the ground as I can,” Martinez said. “Another beautiful thing about the Gold Bug 2 is that your coil can touch the ground, and it doesn’t influence your signal like it would with other detectors. Sometimes, you can touch the ground and they will give you a false signal, which can be quite frustrating. With the Gold Bug 2, you can touch the ground, although I like to hover just above it — literally just above it — so that you are just lightly touching it like a feather to your skin. You want to picture that with the ground. Obviously, you don’t want to hit any big rocks or anything like that.”
• Swing low, slow and steady
Gold detecting is generally not about speed. Although you do want to cover as much ground as possible, it’s more important to search carefully chosen ground thoroughly. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
“I try to go about three feet a second with each swing ... I’m a slower swinger myself. Although the Gold Bug 2 allows you to swing faster than most, I like to slowly swing my detector the same way I would put icing on a cake. You want to cover the last track halfway,”
Martinez said. “So, you just want to halfway cover each one of your last swings so that you don’t miss anything, I’m the craziest guy in the world. I don’t want to miss a centimeter or a millimeter. In my mind, that millimeter is where the gold is.”
Not just for nuggets
Also worth noting is that many prospectors — even if they are going drywashing — will bring the Gold Bug 2 along to locate black sands and fine-gold deposits.
Got your new Gold Bug 2? Now what?
For the newbie metal detectorist who has recently purchased a Gold Bug 2, or has been fortunate enough to receive one as a gift, the best place to start is by reading the manual, as always with any new equipment.
It helps to watch how-to videos and do additional research online, but nothing beats one-on-one tips from a dealer or lessons from experienced detectorists, who can usually be found at gold prospecting clubs, such as local GPAA chapters.
“The GPAA is a good organization, and I think that everybody should start there,” he said. “What I loved about the GPAA when I first started was it gave me something to look forward to with regard to all of the mining claims that they have. I immediately started working all the claims in the area. I knew where I could go and it gave me a map of where to go and how to get there.”
Martinez also browsed the GPAA forums for information and tips on gold detecting techniques and equipment.
“You can ask people questions about areas and certain YouTube pages. It also helped me with the questions I had before I bought my machines for the things I wanted to do.
“I wanted a dual type machine so that I could find coins and gold because I couldn’t afford both. So, I was able to find that kind of information.”
Gold fever means different things to different people, but there is no question that Martinez has been infected by the Gold Bug’s bite, and not just the detector.
“Gold fever is running through my veins. I can’t stand it,” he said. “I constantly want to go, and I’m always looking for different bits of information to give me an edge — just that little tip that might help me find gold.”
To Martinez, gold fever means having a reason to get outdoors to enjoy nature.
“I love just being in the outdoors ... and sleeping under the stars. With prospecting as a new hobby, I get to do that fairly often,” he said. “It means having a wonderful hobby I can share with everybody. Most people think it is kind of grandiose, but what it means to me is that I have the potential of finding something awesome, and I believe that one day I will.”