I was searching around on the web, trying to find a story I had read some time ago about Billy Barker, when he came up from the States to gold pan on the Fraser River shortly before his famous big strike in the Cariboo on William's Creek.
If I recall correctly, I read a little tidbit about how much gold they panned out of the river in the season before they headed to the Cariboo. Back in those days, you worked "the season" which was around five or six months long, and then took your loot with you back to Victoria for the winter and made sure you were good and broke and ready to go back out in the spring again. Sounds just like the miners that I know today! At any rate, in the article I read, with the figure given of how many ounces they returned to Victoria with after panning on the Fraser for a season, I remember doing some rough calculations by converting it into today's gold/dollar value, then roughly dividing it by the number of days worked, and I figured they were making around $250 or so a day panning for gold. Not too bad really. I mean, it's not smoking lawyer or doctor wages, but it's not minimum wage at McDonald's either. It's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. (This was a while back that I did these calculations, when gold was around $1600 instead of today's $1300) Add on top of that the lure of finding a "big strike", and I can certainly see why so many people struck out for the gold fields in the summers. Why not? Especially if there was no equivalent paying work in town.
What I wonder about is the fact that there is still gold in those waters, and how much a day a person might be able to extract from panning them today. There is still gold panning for tourists in places like Yale, and in my readings around the web, I've read that the best places to go panning for gold are places where there have been previous finds of gold. Gold never really leaves a place, even after it has been mined. There is always new gold appearing because erosion and other such natural forces are always exposing more of it as time goes on, so you have a better chance of panning for gold where there has been previous success than by forging out in to the wilderness and looking for that "big strike."
So, I've been wondering, with all the talk of soaring unemployment, good paying jobs being replaced by part-time minimum wage work, economic collapse, bank-failures and bail-ins, runaway inflation or deflation, the great leveling - the reset of our economy through hardship and depression - and other such lovely things, how high would gold have to go before it is worth it to go panning rather than waiting in the lengthy unemployment line? I guess it all depends on how much gold you can average a day multiplied by the price of gold, doesn't it? If gold were to triple in value to $4,000 an ounce, there were no jobs in town, and you could pan an ounce of the stuff out of the river in a month... what would you do?
Anyway, it's just a thought. It's not too far away to some of these old gold fields for me, and I think panning might be an interesting hobby to take up - it could make nice little camping trips and such - while also being a valuable skill if the SHTF one day.
Here's an interesting page filled with information and tips on how to pan for gold, including a video: Gold Prospecting and Gold Panning How-To