The easiest and simplest way prospecting for gold can be done is by panning for gold.
Panning for gold is the cheapest way to find gold. Firstly you need to find the best location in the area you are prospecting. Pick a spot where the water is about 6 inches deep and flowing steadily. Just fast enough that you can see the pan in the water and can sit comfortably.
The trick of panning for gold is in the dexterity in using the gold pan and keeping a sharp eye out. Patience is very important as you might spend a long time with no results, but when you do get results the satisfaction will be marvelous.
First, fill the pan with about three quarters gravel. Then submerge it just under the water surface. Give the pan a few shakes from side to side but not to violently. You don’t want to wash material out of the pan just yet.
Then change from the shaking motion to a circular motion swirling the material around in the pan in a circle. This will get most of the dirt and clay to dissolve in the water and make it easier to wash out of the pan. If you find any roots, moss or other debris just pick them over with your fingers to break up any lumps. Often gold can be found clinging to bits of moss and roots or twigs even in the dirt attached to them. So you want to gently dissolve the dirt and clean the debris you find.
Just keep repeating this process until you have got all the rocks and dirt dissolved and up to the surface. The heavier concentrates should sink to the bottom. These will be where you will find the gold. This is really a gentle separation of heavy substances from the light. Gold is heavy and will sink to the bottom but as there might be very tiny particles of gold you do not want to lose them during the swirling. So be gentle and not too rough.
Ok now you need to wash off the lighter sand and dirt and you do this by tilting the pan slightly away from you. Begin to swirl the water side by side with a slight forward tossing motion. Don’t worry you will get the hang of it. Doing this you can spill the lighter material over the side of the pan.
You can level the pan from time to time and shaking it back and forth causing more lighter material to come to the surface which you can get rid of the same way. Just keep doing this and you will end up with about one or two handfuls of heavy material in the base of the pan. This material is generally called "black sand" or "concentrate". This is where you will find your gold.
Now raise the pan out of the water leaving about an inch of water in the pan. Tilt the pan slightly and swirl it around in a circular motion checking for gold nuggets and pieces you can pick out by hand.
Keep repeating this process. It is a critical part of the panning process. Here is where you will find your gold. Hopefully you will have a plastic pan (preferably black so any gold shows up. Use the magnet under the pan and move it in a circular motion with the pan tilted slightly. This will help to isolate gold from the black sand. You will need a strong magnet to reach through the plastic pan, especially if it is thick.
If you do use a steel pan, not recommended as it is quite heavy and subject to rust as well as hindering the use of a magnet, then you will need to remove any oil from the pan before use. You can do this by burning the pan over the hot coals of a camp fire and heating it to a dull red. Then dunk it in water. This not only burns off any residue oil but will also give the pan a bluish hue making it easier to locate gold specks.
Another useful tool is a small bottle of detergent. A couple of drops in the water helps to break up the surface tension f the water and speeds up the operation considerably. If you do this keep in mind the environment and use environmentally friendly detergent.
Some people might tell you that there is no gold left and that it has all been panned out from the rivers and streams. This is not so. Winter rains and storms bring down more water and wash more gold down the river beds. It has been estimated that all the gold minded and discovered is only about 5 percent of that available so prospecting for gold is still a worthwhile activity not to mention a lot of fun.