Fill your pan with a shovel full of spoil from a beach or crevice and find a quiet pool of water. Squat down and immerse the pan under the water. Shake the pan from side to side a few times. This will rinse off any gold sticking to the stones on top, and send it to the bottom of the pan. Lift the pan and scoop off the larger stones from the surface. Put the pan back under the water and work the gravels around with your fingers to get the contents of the pan thoroughly wet. Bubbles may come to the surface as you do this. As you lift the gold pan out of the water, tilt it slightly forward and away from you and let the displaced water wash out some of the top gravels and stones. It is a relatively small movement, so if you are too vigorous you may lose the contents of your pan. Shake your pan from side to side from time to time, then make the dip and forward movement, allowing the water to ease the top layer of lighter material out of the pan. That’s all there is to it. Make the water do the work for you, not your arms. It gets easier with practice.
When you have about a cupful of grit in the bottom of your pan, continue the same procedure, but very carefully. Shake sideways, dip and lift gently, at the same time increasing the angle of the pan until it is nearly upright with the lip in the water.
When you are satisfied that you have got rid of most of the grit, lift the pan out of the water, and gently swirl it in a circular motion. A narrow, black sand tail should appear behind the residue. The gold should be in this tail. It may be a little or a lot, depending on the creek you are in and the work you have put in.
With care and patience, you can continue panning with smaller and smaller movements until all the black sand and debris are gone and only the gold is left. If you don’t have time for a washup, or to clean out the black sand, take the whole panful home and pan it out there in a wide, shallow bowl or tub.