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Guns, bombs, WWII artifacts found while magnet fishing in Michigan

Guns, bombs, WWII artifacts found while magnet fishing in Michigan
Guns, bombs, WWII artifacts found while magnet fishing in Michigan 03:48

(CBS DETROIT) - For most, fishing is simply an enjoyable pastime, but for some, fishing is a way to help the environment and solve crimes.

Magnet fishing is a growing hobby, where people search bodies of water using magnets. 

"I never realized how much garbage is at the bottom of our waterways," said magnet fisher Jason Vanderwall. "People think that our waterways are their personal trash 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 started posting his finds online, and Motor City Magnet Magnet Fishers was born. They have found 60 bicycles, a few motorcycles, and garnered hundreds of thousands of followers across their multiple social media platforms. 

"I hated regular fishing," said Randy Burns. 

Burns said he got into magnet fishing when he was going through a hard time. His father had recently died and he was looking for something to help him get through it. 

"To take my mind off of it, and to get out and start enjoying life a little bit again," said Burns.

That's when he came across Vanderwall's videos and eventually joined him. Burns said they now go fishing every weekend, across different parts of Michigan.

"One inch to the left or the right can make a difference in a good day and a bad day," he said.

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

"The history really drives me," said Burns. "And the idea of where you came from. What's the story behind what we just pulled up."

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

CBS News Detroit reporter Kelly Vaughen joined them magnet fishing in the Detroit River. In one throw, she pulled up 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 magnet fishing with Jason Vanderwall and Randy Burns. Kelly Vaughen/CBS News Detroit

The Motor City Magnet Fishers have found nearly 100 firearms in Michigan. Just a few weeks ago in Lansing, they even found a gun that police dive teams were actively searching for. 

"I think it was the third or fourth throw. we ended up pulling out that firearm they were looking for," said Vanderwall. "But it was about 200 yards away from where they were looking."

Whenever they find a gun or potential explosive, they turn them over to authorities.

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

We also pulled out old keys, railroad spikes, tools, and a pager. They said it's that feeling of uncovering a mystery that has helped spread magnet fishing around the world. But Detroit is a particularly great spot. 

"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 putting garbage in the river," said Vanderwall. "I got a magazine loaded with three rounds from a Boys 55 caliber anti-tank rifle, which is a British rifle during World War II. So that was really cool."

They have also found a mortar round from World War II and a Federal-Mogul porcelain sign from the 40s. The sign is the only find they've ever sold.

"I sold it for $350, it was actually estimated to be worth about $650. But the gentleman that purchased it from me was a sign collector and I knew it was going to a good home, and it wasn't just going to be resold for profit," said Vanderwall. 

But some of their finds can be disturbing. 

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

But the Motor City Magnet Fishers keep coming back for the good. Whether that's cleaning up our waterways, helping a kayaker recover their lost keys, or finding secrets hidden just beneath us. 

While they have pulled up most anything you can think of, Vanderwall said he does hope to find a cannonball someday from the Revolutionary or Civil War, or even from the War of 1812 

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

Vanderwall said you will almost always end up finding something, but if you do come up empty-handed, be grateful your waterways are clean. 

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