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A different type of fishing: Magnets pull trash and treasure from Baltimore Harbor

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Baltimore, some residents are finding a novel way to fight off the winter blues. Magnet fishing is bringing residents down to a local pier to see what kind of trash or treasure they can pry up from the muck. WYPR's Scott Maucione has more.

SCOTT MAUCIONE, BYLINE: On a windy evening in mid-January, about 14 people are out on the pier standing in mid-30-degree weather.

JACK BENSON: OK, remember? So you want to stand on this side. Every guy toss them in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Wow.

BENSON: Way to go.

MAUCIONE: Jack Benson's teaching some of them how to magnet fish.

BENSON: Let it sink all the way. Let it sink. You have to be patient.

MAUCIONE: On Thursday nights, people of all ages gather in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore to fish metal objects out of the water. They use high-powered magnets tied to ropes to jiggle objects out from the seabed. The magnets are cylindrical and only about the size of your fist, but they have the pull force of thousands of pounds. Ally Chalmers is slowly pulling up a rope, feeling for anything that might snatch on to her magnet.

ALLY CHALMERS: Well, I wanted it to go a little father, but it didn't. Did you see the tension...

MAUCIONE: Yeah, yeah.

CHALMERS: ...Right here? It's pretty wild. Like, look. You kind of feel...

MAUCIONE: Oh, yeah.

CHALMERS: ...Like that tension? That's it's, like...

MAUCIONE: Yeah, yeah. It's like dragging.

CHALMERS: It is. It's like it's dragging and it's feeling a bunch of something.

MAUCIONE: Chalmers is bundled up against the wind and wears a heavy set of gloves to keep her hands warm as she continues pulling the magnet in.

CHALMERS: I mean, it's kind of weird. As you move it along, you can feel that there's a lot of things that it's attracted to down there. Like, I can feel heaviness right now even - almost like a fish is on it, which I know it's not.

MAUCIONE: It's not just scraps that the magnet fishers have brought up from the piers. In the past month, they've hauled in 15 scooters, lawn chairs, headphones, knives and even a gun. That last one, they turned into the authorities. Evan Woodard is the organizer behind the magnet fishing meetup. He started posting his finds on social media and then decided to make it into a community event.

EVAN WOODARD: It's a great way to connect everyone together. You get all walks of life. You got people that are, like, boat captains that come out. So it's, like, this just - everyone's out here doing this, having fun.

MAUCIONE: Woodard bags up all the finds at the end of the night and makes sure they're disposed of properly. But tonight's bounty is a little light. People are mostly bringing up cans, rusty pieces of rebar and unidentifiable pieces of metal. Things pick up, though, when one of the smaller magnet fishers arrives on the scene.

STEVE BROADHEAD: My name's Steve - with a V, yep.

MAUCIONE: Cool.

BROADHEAD: And...

CALVIN: And that's a Calvin, right here.

MAUCIONE: You're Calvin?

Steve Broadhead and his 7-year-old son, Calvin, heard about magnet fishing from a friend.

BENSON: Calvin has watched videos on YouTube of people magnet fishing in Britain.

MAUCIONE: Jack Benson's showing Calvin the ropes. And during their lesson, something gets snagged.

BENSON: All right. Ready? You got to be real gentle. Just hold this line here. Get your dad - yeah, here you go. And then I'm going to try to go down and see if I can grab - all right, bring it up a little bit. There we go. All right.

CALVIN: Oh, my gosh.

MAUCIONE: Calvin and Benson pull up a pipe about 15 feet long, and Calvin loses it.

CALVIN: What? What? What? What? How long is this?

MAUCIONE: He sits down next to his catch while his dad captures the moment.

CALVIN: I think I just caught a big pipe.

BROADHEAD: (Laughter).

MAUCIONE: For NPR News in Baltimore, I'm Scott Maucione.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Maucione