If you think the Forty-Niners found all the gold during the Gold Rush one hundred and fifty years ago, guess again. They recovered some surface placer gold to start with, which led them to many rich bonanza lode deposits. They certainly didn't get it all. I have been prospecting for gold well over 50 years and continue to find large nuggets, some on and near the surface, without digging myself a grave. Some consider a quarter ounce piece a large nugget, for me, large best be 10 ounces or more. Exceptions are when I'm working a new area. Finding a few small specks in a pan, I get as excited as if I had found a monster when I’m working a relatively untouched area. Mainly, because I know if I continue upstream or upslope it will lead me to larger pieces. The fine pieces can travel for miles from the source. I try to avoid areas with long desert washes and focus my efforts on shorter catch basins, where I don't need to hike and test ten miles or more to get to the source.
The old timers did not have metal detectors, ATV's, 4 X 4's etc. They usually had a jackass, shovel, pick and camp items. Today we have many useful items that help us identify areas that may be gold bearing. We also have the equipment to recover ore like never before. You do not need to spend $1000's on equipment, most of what you need you can buy used to start off, for a few hundred dollars or less. To be successful, you must think like a detective, watching for clues. You will need to have patience and a positive attitude.
I used to focus all my attention in areas where there was an existing or abandoned gold mine. My thinking was, if you’re looking for elephants you go to elephant country. While this may be true, as gold mines often exist in clusters; most of this land is patented or staked by someone else and I have no desire to dig buckshot out of my bottom. I have since changed my tactics and am starting to see the fruits of my efforts mature. Gold prospecting is fun and can be very rewarding. I must have a serious case of gold fever because after 50 years, I'm still at it and love it.