A group of friendly fishermen was excited Saturday to reel in their catches off the Black Bridge in Westbrook, but not with rods and lures. Using industrial magnets, they hauled a clump of three bikes and then a rusted scooter, among other things, out of the Presumpscot.

Colt Busch shows off a bike he pulled from the water. Chance Viles / American Journal

Unofficial group leader Colt Busch and his friends are magnet fishers – fishermen, treasure hunters and environmentalists all in one. Outfitted with industrial magnets and heavy duty rope, the new group of about 10 men and women of all ages tries to meet weekly at a river, pond or lake in the area to rid it of submerged metal trash and any other junk they might catch along the way.

“I grew up in Maryland off of the Chesapeake Bay. I’d see so much trash, and I realized it really is up to the citizens to clean it up,”  said Busch, who now lives in Lewiston.

Magnet fishing, like fishing itself, is both simplistic yet hard. The magnets, on lines, are cast into the water and slowly reeled back while the fisher feels for a catch.

Some of the magnets weigh upwards of 20 pounds and can lift more than 50 times that amount. Magnets can range from $50 to hundreds of dollars, Busch said, but a setup like his Bear Magnet by Platinum Online Products sells for less than $100.

Grappling hooks are used to grab and move both non-metal and metal objects in the way.

The group Saturday used their grappling hooks to haul in another big catch.

“We’ve got Wessie,” joked Busch, yelling down the line of fishers, who he met through a Facebook group. “We are cleaning up the river one piece of junk at a time!”

The catch wasn’t Westbrook’s legendary Presumpscot River python, but a large log. Metal fishers often drag downed trees out of rivers and lakes and find a trove of metal objects that had been trapped around and beneath them.

Sometimes a catch will take “the bait” but then disappear, but when a catch sticks and reveals itself, the fun is in the surprise.

“I love it because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” said Russell Galloway of Westbrook. “I’ve found so many shopping carts, bikes, scythes from old grain factories.”

Galloway said he’s been fishing for a safe that he heard was thrown into the Presumpscot after a robbery

Russell Galloway of Westbrook reels in his magnet Saturday. He said he likes to magnet fish when he doesn’t have a chance to go fly fishing and vice versa. Chance Viles / American Journal

in the 1920s. The group actually pulled an old, empty safe out of the river a week before – a prize catch they were still riding high from – but it wasn’t the infamous safe Galloway has been hunting.

“The safe was probably the craziest thing we got as a group,” said Damion Dobson of Lewiston. “In Lewiston, I got this sword, but have pulled out knives, hammers, all types of things.”

“Imagine swimming and stepping on something like that,” Dobson said.

Busch said the excitement of not knowing what will be found keeps him coming back, but ultimately it scares him to know that people swim in places that likely have potentially injurious scrap metal at the bottom.

“I know cities are trying to clean up their rivers, but, really, more needs to be done. In the Lewiston Canal, fish swim through that you know? We are pulling out so much garbage and trash,” Busch said.

Cameron Fox said environmental responsibility is the reason for his participation in the group.

“It is about showing my daughter this is our world, we have to clean it up in a condition they can live in,” Fox said.

Aside from having a good time, the group hopes they, along with their  Youtube videos, will bring awareness to what could be lying beneath the water’s surface and encourage a cleaner environment.

The magnet fishers with their April 3 haul, pulled from the Presumpscot River by the Black Bridge. Back row from left: Edward Smith of Westbrook, Jon Meserve of Westbrook, Roy Albert of Lewiston, Russell Galloway of Westbrook, Damion Dobson of Lewiston, Tim Morgan of Westbrook and Colt Busch of Lewiston. Front from left: Debbie and Isabella Meserve. Chance Viles / American Journal

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