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Soaring gold prices rekindle interest in gold panning hobby
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Carl and Dee Wackerly practice their gold-panning technique during the introductory class Wednesday at the Manteca Bass Pro Shops. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT

It was years ago when Dee Wackerly and her husband, Carl, last tried panning for gold.

She recalled that it was somewhere up in the Stanislaus River.

“It was always exciting,” Wackerly said. “We used a pair of tweezers to pull the gold dust out (from the sand).”

The Wackerlys were re-introduced to their old hobby on Wednesday at the Gold Panning 101 class conducted by Robert Temple at the Manteca Bass Pro Shops.

Temple works for the national retailer in the camping department. He’s been there for over a year.

In that time, Temple has conducted several of the free introductory gold-mining courses at the local Bass Pro Shops.

“I love to talk about gold,” he said at the one-hour class. “It kills me that they no longer allow dredging.”

Dredging with a motorized suctioning device – sort of an underwater “vacuum” tube, according to Temple – was once used to extract gold from the river bottom. Fishermen argued that this practice ruined the spawning beds for trout and Steelhead.

He noted that there’s other ways to mine gold including use of a sluice box.

This is a portable device featuring an artificial channel for conducting water that’s often fitted with a gate at the upper end for regulating the flow.

“This is an efficient way of processing,” Temple said. “Gold is 19 times heavier than water – you’re trying to ‘catch’ it inside (the sluice box).”

Gold, he added, is currently at record-highs of over $1,600 per ounce.

“A giant nugget as big as my thumb can go for $8,000,” said Temple, who indicated that nuggets come higher valued since the gold is still in its natural state.

Those attending his class were provided with maps of prime river locations to conduct their search for gold. These areas are usually gravel bars along the streams in California’s Mother Lode Country.

“There’s gold out there and tons of places to go,” he said.

Temple has 32 years of experience in prospecting. He belongs to several organizations related to his hobby, including United Prospector Inc., Gold Prospectors Association of America, Delta Gold Diggers, and the East Bay Prospectors.

Another effective way of prospecting is panning, which can also be a time-consuming method.

Dee and Carl Wackerly still have the technique down, holding the pan at an angle while patiently swirling it around.

Their enthusiasm towards the hobby also appeared rekindled.

“I hoped that I was able to at least excite you about prospecting,” added Temple.

Another basic gold panning class is planned at Manteca Bass Pro Shops. Log on to for the listing.