For these magnet hunters, the payoff is greater than searching for treasure

Roy Albert, lower, of Auburn, casts his line with a magnet attached to it into the Brishampscott River in Westbrook along with other magnet fishermen. Last year, the group collected thousands of pounds of coins—everything from bicycles to shopping carts to antique guns—from the river, and won an award from the Brishampscott River Friends. ( Ben Makana / Staff Photographer

WESTBROOK – Dylan Moulton peered over the metal fence on the old railway bridge over the Brishampscott River, then stepped back and turned. He threw a circular magnet tied to a 110-foot rope, watching it arch before tumbling with a fork into the murky water.

The second time he went out with a group of magnet fishing enthusiasts, the 10-year-old from Scarborough hung up two rusty bikes and hoisted them onto the bridge with a little help from other anglers. His excitement about his first catch – a yellow bike covered in rust and mud – was infectious.

“I love helping clean things up,” he said, twisting his rope and tossing his magnets back into the water. “And it’s fun too.”

Over the past two years, volunteers with Citizen Magnet Fishing and other strong magnet fishermen have pulled more than 20,000 pounds of metal from the Presumpscot River, which flows through Westbrook and under the Black Bridge. where they hunt. Their cargo includes dozens of bikes, shopping carts, safes, railroad nails, and countless unrecognizable pieces of metal.

Unofficial group leader Colt Bush started magnet fishing four years ago after a friend showed him videos on YouTube of magnet fishing around the country. He got hooked right away and started creating his own YouTube videos. In a video clip from last spring, he documented the group pulling a safe and a lawn mower from the river.

Bosch said magnet fishing is fun, and it also gives him the opportunity to go out and clean up the environment and connect with kids to inspire them to do the same.

“We’re the ones making this water dirty and we’re the only ones who can clean it up,” said Bush, who lives in Lewiston and fishes in the rivers near the house.

river cleaning

Busch, 41, uses social media to get involved when the group is out of Presumpscot, and people are always showing up. Sometimes it’s just a few people quietly tossing their magnets into the water. Other times, 20 people will crowd the bridge while a diver in the water helps guide them to the wreck. Busch and other regulars Come with extra magnets to teach passersby, usually neighborhood kids, how to fish.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit Brishampscott River Friends gave Bush and fellow magnet fishermen Debbie Gere, Russell Galloway, Cameron Fox, Timmy Morgan, Roy Albert and Chris Magon the Chief Polin Award, awarded annually to people who defend the river in different ways. . John Chandler, a Portland kayak maker, also received an award for picking up trash while paddling in the river.

Michael Shaughnessy, President of the Council of Friends and member of Westbrook City Council, said magnet hunters are calling attention to the river and the abuses it has suffered. For decades, he said, the river was treated as a landfill.

Russell Galloway and Brigid Rankowski of Westbrook look at the daily bike load and cart after magnet fishing in the Brishampscott River. Ben Makana / Staff Photographer

“Colt is not a shrinking violet in terms of putting itself out there on social media and pushing the whole idea of ​​magnet fishing as a kind of recreational activity. That’s great because the more people do it, the better.” “The more he can push the concept of magnet fishing, the more people will go out there and cling to it and clean up the rivers.”

The 25.8-mile Presumpscot River flows from Sebago Lake into Casco Bay, passing through Standish, Wyndham, Gorham, Westbrook, Portland, and Falmouth. The 648-square-mile catchment is the largest freshwater inlet in Casco Bay.

The name Presumpscot originated from the Abenaki words meaning “many falls” or “many hard places.” In the 1500s, a site on the river called Ammoscongin—now the Cumberland Mills Dam in Westbrook—was used as local farming land due to the abundance of fish in the area, according to Friends of the Presumpscot River, intended to improve water quality, fisheries and the river’s natural character.

The river historically supported shad, aliev, blue herring, striped bass, trout and landlocked and Atlantic salmon, but damming along the river starting in the 1730s flooded 12 waterfalls and halted the passage of fish. The river’s ecological vitality has steadily declined as more dams enter and the waters overflow with industrial waste, according to the Friends Group.

People have advocated for the undisturbed passage of fish over the river for over 250 years, beginning with the Abenaki chief Paulin in the 1750s. Travel to Boston to meet the colonial governor to claim the passage of fish downstream. While the governor seemed to agree, nothing changed, which led to an armed conflict in 1756 between the Abenaki people and white settlers. Chief Pauline was shot, and many of the remaining Abenaki moved away as the white settlement encroached on their lands.

In the past 50 years, the river has seen significant improvements. The Clean Water Act of the 1970s required water discharges to be treated, which resulted in much better water quality. With the removal of a dam and the installation of fish lanes, the trout and salmon fisheries have been restored.

treasure hunt

Westbrook Mayor Michael Foley said it was great for the community that magnet fishermen donate so much time to clean up the river.

“We are doing what we can as a city to support them,” he said. “We don’t have staff to help dispose of the items, but we’ve worked with businesses in the community who have donated trash pans to put things in.”

The fishermen handed the recovered items over to the police, including bullets and bikes that looked like they had just gone into the river. Donate an antique rifle to the local historical community. Most of what he catches is scrap and is for recycling.

Citizen Magnet Fishers, a group of volunteer magnet fishing enthusiasts, continue their work pulling minerals from the Presumpscot River in Westbrook. Ben Makana / Staff Photographer

After the group had fished for about an hour on a sunny Friday afternoon, the pile of rusty metal pulled from the river already contained six bicycles and a shopping cart with a missing wheel and what looked like an axle. The heap nearly doubled after two hours.

Nick Wallace, a stay-at-home dad from Gorham, was on the bridge with his 11-year-old son Elijah and helped others pull the bikes they tied. He first heard about magnet fishing from Bosch and decided to give it a try.

“I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

Wallace said magnet fishing helps him relieve his anxiety and depression. He enjoys meeting new people, some of whom he now fishes with on a regular basis. Having fallen in love with the hobby, he upgraded his equipment to a magnet that can hold 3,600 pounds.

Many people start with smaller magnets that can pull up to 1,200 pounds and are roughly the size of an adult’s palm. Busch and other Black Bridge regulars recommend newcomers, especially kids, to start with kits that can be purchased for around $80 and come with magnets, rope, carabiners, and gloves. Stronger magnets usually cost more than $100.

Recently, Wallace attached a heavy, rusty metal wheel that looked like it came from a mine cart. The children crowded onto the bridge to look at it, just as they did when an adult pulled a metal plate that had fallen off a railroad bridge.

Colt Busch, of downtown Lewiston, and Dominic Keane, of Portland, prepare to lower a grappling hook in the Prismbscott River for scrap metal. Ben Makana / Staff Photographer

Brigid Rankowski, the professional mermaid with the title of Miss Mermaid Maine, is often in the river below the bridge in scuba gear to help magnet fishermen recover items. I helped recover bowling balls, wheelchairs, boom box, and shopping carts from businesses that no longer exist.

“The scary thing is that we’ve been doing this for over a year and we’re still getting things out of this exact place,” Rankowski said.

Rankowski used the title Miss Mermaid to spread the word about magnet fishing as a way to highlight the importance of not polluting the state’s waterways. She said seeing volunteers dedicated to magnet fishing motivates the younger generation.

“The kids are happy with whatever they get. It’s like a treasure hunt,” she said.

Moulton, a 10-year-old from Scarborough, took a short break from fishing to give advice to Caleb Harrison, who had come from Portland to try magnet fishing for the first time. His mother, Meredith Harrison, said she had seen posts about a magnet fishing group on Facebook and knew it would be an activity her son would enjoy.

“It’s outdoors and fun,” she said. “It involves magnets, which any 10-year-old would love.”

Caleb Harrison positioned himself near the railroad, magnet in hand and rope wrapped in his feet. Moulton told him to throw the rope as far away as possible so the magnet wouldn’t stick to the metal bridge.

He told Harrison, who did just that.

Together, the boys watched the magnets splash into the water, sending ripples toward a log where a sun-dyed turtle rested. They didn’t catch anything going first, but luckily they kept searching for the treasure.

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