5 Biggest Mistakes New Gold Dredgers Make in Nome, Alaska

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Written By Monica

Every season, people come to Nome with big ideas and dreams without truly realizing the reality of what it’s like to live and mine here. We have a graveyard of abandoned dreams, dredges and ideas that people spent a lot of money on but didn’t work out. It’s depressing because they could have succeeded with the right tweaks and advice. Here are the 5 biggest mistakes new gold dredgers make in Nome, Alaska (with a bonus one at the end) and Emily’s advice on how to avoid them. Hopefully, with some great advice from Emily Riedel, you’ll avoid the same mistakes made by the owners of those dredges in the graveyard.

 Mistake #1 – Jumping in Headfirst

The first mistake that a lot of first-time dredgers make in Nome, Alaska is just jumping in head first. 

5 Biggest Mistakes New Gold Dredgers Make

They come up to Nome, guns blazing, spending a lot of money on an operation before they’ve learned the lay of the land, before they’ve talked to people who are already successfully mining in Nome. They just come up here with big ideas, big ambitions and just kind of go for it. They’re not even familiar with the terrain or the ocean floor. Many people come up here and they have an operation that’s meant to suck up sand that’s not made to encounter a rock. They’ve built something that is uniquely suited for sand not realizing how many boulders there are. There are huge boulder patches, you don’t have to mine them but you still have to have equipment that can deal with them. 

Many people come up here thinking they have come up with some revolutionary new idea or design, like submarine dredges. Those have been tried many times but have never worked out, there are a few of those in the dredge graveyard. Subsea crawlers or surf crawlers are another design that people have tried without having an understanding of things like marine corrosion or how they’re going to be able to even set up the highly complicated system of hydraulics. When you’re trying to do something as sophisticated as a subsea crawler there’s so much trial and error that you better have the money, the patience and the ingenuity to make it all work. And even if you do have all that, people fail to realize how remote Nome really is and how hard it is to get parts, especially specialized ones. 

A really common question Emily gets is why don’t they use two divers, Check out the video below where Emily and her dad, Steve Riedel go into more detail on why that doesn’t work. 

Instead of jumping right in, Emily advises new miners to go up to Nome for a season, lay low,  talk to people. observe what works and what doesn’t. Most successful people in Nome started really small and worked their way up, refining their operation and then got huge scaling up. 

Mistake #2 – Don’t be a Johnson

The second reason people tend to fail in their first year or two of mining is that they fail to realize how much you need to rely on the locals and fellow miners. Emily has seen many people come up and act like a jerk to the locals and other miners. You might be surprised to hear this, but it often happens that people get to Nome and think they know more than the people who have been up here doing it already, successfully, for years. They have no experience in Nome but they think they know more and are rude and arrogant to everyone. 

Nome is a very very tiny village, it’s a favor economy. You need people to like you. You start to talk to people, get to know them, they like you and start to trust you then you can exchange favors.  Emily recounts a time when she needed a part from a shop at midnight to get back to mining. The business owner, Jeff, was in his backyard grilling when Emily asked if he could open his shop so they could get the part they needed. Because Emily had a good relationship with Jeff, he had no problem opening the shop so they could get the part to make the needed repairs and get back on the gold. This is an example of a favor economy. You get to know people. Be nice, be humble. 

Nome Alaska Gold Mines

Whatever you think you know, if you’re a great engineer, a great welder or you’ve been mining somewhere else, go into Nome, assume you don’t know anything and be nice. It’s incredibly difficult to find the tools that you need up here and you can’t bring everything with you. There’s going to be a moment when you’re going to need to contact a local or another gold miner for some help and you don’t want to burn those bridges. Don’t burn bridges with a local welder. Don’t burn bridges with your other miners, if you can avoid it. Obviously, some of them aren’t the most savory people so that’s hard to avoid but you never know. 

You need to have a good rapport with people. They’re going to have something that you desperately need to go back to work. Everyday working up here is critical. Every day when the ocean is calm, it’s the difference between you and your mining season being a success or a failure a lot of the time. Calm weather is scarce so you need to be ready to go at all times. You have to have good relationships with people, you never know when they’re going to have something that you desperately need. 

Mistake #3 – Taking advice from people with no gold

The third reason people tend to fail up here is listening to other people that don’t have any gold. My advice for people for years has been if  somebody in the bar is giving you advice about equipment that makes the best gold mining operation, what the best techniques are, where to look for the best ground. If someone is giving you that advice and they’re very charismatic and it all sounds great just stop and ask yourself wait do they have any gold? Everybody has an opinion, everybody has an idea, everybody thinks they know the best way to go about the business but unless they’ve actually found the right way to go about the business and make money then take their ideas and “advice” with an extreme grain of salt.

Mistake #4 – Not being mentally or physically prepared for life in Nome, Alaska

The fourth reason most dredgers fail is not being mentally prepared for the isolation and the lifestyle of Nome. 

Emily recalls, her first year up here she lived on the beach in a little shack and that was fun but it’s not really sustainable. She wouldn’t really recommend it for a multi-year plan. Nome is a shockingly hard place to be, you don’t have a lot of community up here and it’s hard to find a good community. You really need to build yourself an infrastructure like a place to live, a vehicle. A lot of times people come up here and the only culture and community they can find happens in the bars. If you already struggle with mental health problems or addictions that’s really not sustainable. If you have a problem with alcohol, you’re sober and you want to stay away from it, Nome is not the place for you.  Emily has seen a lot of people come up and go off of the wagon, almost immediately.  They’ve been sober for over 20 years but they get to Nome and boom that’s done.  

Bering Sea Gold Mining

It can be hard to make friends in Nome. It’s very culturally different from the rest of the US. There is a lot of good community if you look for it though it can take a while. Nome can also be a very dark and depressing place because it might be storming for 3 weeks straight and you have to be able to deal with solitude. Not many people can deal with isolation and solitude for long periods of time. 

People come up here and they don’t invest in any kind of infrastructure. There’s nowhere to store their stuff. They don’t have a vehicle. They live on the beach in a tent. Emily says she can respect the hustle trying to be cheap and efficient but that can really wear on a person. Nome is not a place that is friendly to walking everywhere, you need a vehicle to get around, you need the basics to survive. You need to be kind and make friends because they can be the difference between making it or a complete failure. 

Mistake #5 – Thinking Bering Sea Gold taught you how to dredge

The final reason that people come up and fail is they watch Bering Sea Gold and think they know everything about gold mining. Emily mentions countless people have come up to her or told her on the internet ‘I’ve seen every episode of Bering Sea Gold and I know what to do.’ She’s grateful they’ve seen every episode, she appreciates that they’re loyal fans but there is so much behind the scenes that they never show. Viewers don’t see the crazy desperate effort she goes through every season to get supplies to Nome on time. There is a ton of work that goes into getting the boat ready that they don’t show and how insane it is trying to get the parts that are needed. It’s always a scramble and a struggle. There are way more roadblocks than you would think that never even get filmed. 

what it takes to be a gold miner

Bering Sea Gold is an ensemble show featuring different Captains and dredges, that means they are only able to show a fraction of what goes into a dredge operation leaving many time consuming things out of what is shown on TV.  The show would quickly get boring if they showed all the conversations and issues in terms of keeping the crew together and everyone on the same page. With so many different personalities, it can take a surprising amount of time simply managing a crew that has been working long days, with little sleep in physically hard conditions. Then there are many many long hours trying to fix things that are broken. That’s one thing you don’t see as they don’t always film those late-night repairs when things suddenly break. Filming is sometimes only for half a day at a time, they don’t film the rest of the day out on the boat when captains and crews are prospecting for gold or dealing with malfunctions or other issues. There’s only so many hours of television in a season, viewers only get a small window into what it takes to run a successful operation. They can’t show absolutely everything so a lot of the time they don’t show just the sheer logistics of running a boat and running a successful gold mining operation. There’s a lot that goes into it that you just don’t know about so don’t think that Bering Sea Gold is your official ‘How to Suck Up Gold Guide’ it’s not but Emily really appreciates everyone for watching.

Bonus Advice

Ultimately, Emily’s advice if you want to be a gold miner in Nome and this is whether you’ve been a gold miner somewhere else or whether you’re absolutely new to the business, her advice is, try to be relatively financially independent.  Even if you don’t have a lot of money yourself, try and make sure that you’re not trying to support a family back home. that would be difficult your first couple seasons. Don’t put your retirement into this. And she can not stress this enough: don’t invest in other people’s gold mining operations. Do not do this! If somebody’s a good enough gold miner to actually make a lot of gold they don’t need your money. That’s the secret. That’s truly the secret: do not invest in another gold mining operation.

If you come up to Nome, invest in a certain amount of comfort and infrastructure. There’s a guy up here living in a Sprinter van. That’s a great idea. Have a vehicle, have a warm and comfortable place to live. Start small, beach mine for a season, get to know people, don’t be a dick, ask a lot of questions, observe what works and what doesn’t. You can start really small and grow to be very big because you’ve done the work right. You’ve done the process right. You’re really familiar with the ground, how it works, where the pay is, where the pay usually is and the best ways to get to the pay.

Successfully mining for gold in Alaska

Learn To be humble, don’t bet the farm, be patient and above all, don’t be a dick. If you can do all that then hopefully when you come up to Nome to mine for some of that sweet sweet gold, we won’t be visiting your dredge in the graveyard one day. 


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