A father-daughter fishing day usually involves pulling in fish — or at least trying to. But for a Livonia dad and daughter, a good catch might be a bike or a pocket knife.
Avery and Jason Vanderwal started cleaning rivers in southeast Michigan using magnets and a grappling hook during the COVID-19 pandemic. The two started Motor City Magnet Fishers doing group “fishing” missions with other magnet heads and putting videos of their finds up on YouTube.
“We liked going fishing and going hiking and Avery likes the YouTube side of things,” says Jason. “So, it was a natural fit.”
How it started
After receiving a powerful fishing magnet for his birthday, Jason decided to try out a new outdoor activity in an effort to pitch in to clean the local waterways.
“Magnet fishing is really about getting the junk and debris out of the water,” Jason explains. “We actually pull out more than just metal – we pull out big wads of fishing line, too.”
“We’ve removed miles of fishing line and every time we pull in the fishing line, it comes with some aquatic creature trapped in it, often crayfish,” he adds. “We carefully cut them out and delicately put them back in.”
One snagged fishing line cut loose from a fisherman can become a giant tangle that disrupts the natural wildlife. Those tangles can reach up to 70 pounds, he says.
Why they love it
Helping animals is one of the reasons that his daughter, Avery, age 8, loves magnet fishing with her dad.
“The reason I like it is because we get to clean up the waterways for the animals to have a cleaner environment,” she says.
And Avery’s love for animals extends beyond saving aquatic animals through magnet fishing, too.
When she’s not helping save animals in the rivers, she’s taking care of her pet leopard gecko, Jack Frost — named for his “light brownish yellow color with pink spots.”
“Of course, the treasure hunting part is fun, too,” Jason adds. “It’s interesting to see that old stuff come out.”
The Vanderwals say they plan to continue magnet fishing for as long as possible and hope to take trips to farther flung magnet fishing destinations soon.
“Most of the time the whole family is out there,” says Avery. “I do like being at home, but it’s a nice way to get outside.”
For those interested in getting started, the two say it doesn’t require much. Purchase a magnet, a sturdy rope and a pair of gloves to keep your hands safe. A bucket helps, and so does a tool like a spackle knife to scrape the magnet clean of metal pieces and muck.
For families who want to try out the hobby before committing, the Vanderwals are hosting a magnet fishing event at John D. Dingell Park in Ecorse on Saturday, May 15, 2021. The event begins at 9 a.m. and will run 3 hours.Participants ages 5 to 15 at the John D. Dingell Park cleanup are also eligible for a magnet fishing kit giveaway.
The Vanderwals have created bags for kids that will have everything they need to get into the hobby, including magnets, buckets, gloves, towels, sunglasses and more.
“We’d like to have a younger generation more concerned about what people are doing to our waterways, that’s why we’re doing this,” says Jason.
The Vanderwal’s Top Five Coolest Magnet Fishing Finds
“We pulled out a large cast iron cauldron filled with religious items, including a rosary, little tools, and smaller cauldrons,” Jason Vanderwal says. “There were spell jars, and one even had nine knives in it with different inscriptions on the handles – it smelled so bad.”
“We’ve gotten about 15 bikes out of the waterways, and seven or eight were only a couple miles from home,” Jason says. “Out in Livonia there are often smaller items, but there’s still a lot to be found.”
The Vanderwals found a machete in the Detroit river near Zug Island, Jason says, along with a few more weapons.
In one of their earliest fishing adventures, Avery pulled out some pocket knives. She says the pocket knives and half a handcuff are her “most interesting finds.”
The Vanderwals sometimes find old handguns in the waterways, which is why it’s important to always have an adult present when magnet fishing. Jason says when they find a handgun, he will first make sure it remains pointed in a safe direction, then remove the magazine. If the gun isn’t able to be unloaded, he calls 911 and has an officer pick it up.
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