It’s a muggy summer day in Florida, cumulus clouds gathering in the distance as Donald Ennis throws his magnet into a creek just off State Road 520.
Searching for treasure in the Central Florida waterways, Ennis, better known as Swampy, has fished out guns, tools, a shovel, car parts, knives and even an Orlando Sentinel’s newspaper vending machine.
At this intersection of Nova Road and Taylor Creek, Ennis Magnet fishes off a flyover with fellow enthusiasts from Florida’s Space Coast and Wisconsin.
“I tag, I tag boys,” he said, borrowing a signature catchphrase from Melbourne brothers Mark and Chris Violette (known on YouTube as 2 Brothers Treasures). That means he’s onto something.
Similar to regular fishing, these underwater metal detection enthusiasts will feel a tug when their powerful magnets stick to something. Some have a “pull strength” of several hundred pounds, while others can pull objects that weigh much more.
For Ennis and his colleagues, one of the big projects of the day was pulling ashore a 300-pound piece of dashboard, which required three magnets and fishermen to work together. Still, it proved too heavy to completely remove from the water.
“That was my Moby Dick. I’ve been trying to pull this thing out for two years,” Ennis said.
Already an avid treasure hunter and salvage finder, Ennis discovered the hobby via YouTube in 2018. He now has his own channel, Swamp Rat Nation.
“It really picked up during the pandemic as people were looking for hobbies that involved getting outside,” he said.
Vickie Chilla, a Eustis resident and treasurer of the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club, is known in the community for recovering class rings and returning them to their owners. About four years ago she discovered magnet fishing for herself.
“I started by looking at YouTube videos and saying, ‘This looks really easy,'” Chilla said. “I joined Amazon and bought an introductory magnet to start with.”
She said introductory magnets start under $30 and end at around $200.
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“It’s a very relaxing activity. It is age appropriate for children, adults and seniors. It’s not physically demanding or labor intensive,” Chilla said. “You never know what you’re going to get. People drop things all the time.”
One of Chilla’s favorite fishing spots is on the shore of Lake Eustis on a dock behind the Crazy Gator. She’s found curious passers-by stopping and asking what’s throwing her in the water.
“There’s camaraderie, you go out and meet new people who stop and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? I didn’t know you could do something like that,’” Chilla said.
While hanging out on The Crazy Gator’s patio, several curious patrons came over to peruse the selection of metal objects laid out on the table. Among them: a cauldron, an unidentified piece of metal resembling part of a gear, and tiny tools that would have been used in a ritual. She often shares her finds on her Facebook page, Lady Luck Metal Detecting.
While it’s the joy of discovery and exploration that keeps these fishermen going, they also recognize that they are doing a part in cleaning up Florida’s environment.
“We’re doing this because we’re cleaning up these waterways,” said Mark Violette. “We want to clean up and have fun, plus you never know what you’re going to get.”