‘Gold Rush’ star Rick Ness talks mining during a pandemic: ‘I had one goal in mind and that was redemption’

'Gold Rush' is recognized as Discovery’s most-watched series

EXCLUSIVE: Rick Ness was eager to search for gold, even during a global pandemic.

While the coronavirus shut down the world in March and rocked the U.S. economy, gold prices spiked to record highs. And the price of fuel, the biggest expense for a gold miner, bottomed out.  That’s why Ness was ready to hit the road in hopes of finding millions of dollars in gold.

The new season of “Gold Rush,” recognized as Discovery’s most-watched series, focuses on how COVID-19 impacted the gold mining industry and how several miners were eager to seek fortune in the wilderness. However, the time crunch and the natural elements would be one of many challenges these crewmen and women had to endure.

Ness spoke to Fox News about filming “Gold Rush” during a pandemic, dealing with quarantine and what kept him going during tough times.

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Fox News: What can audiences expect from the new season of “Gold Rush”?
Rick Ness: Well, this was an interesting one, I'll tell you that. I mean, we were just as affected as everybody by COVID. I can only speak for myself personally, but I got a late start this year and it was a year that I really needed an early start. I had a bad year last year. 

But we powered through it and got back to our roots. I think people are going to like what they see. I mean, it's just a dirty, hard nose kind of a season right here. We didn't have a whole lot of time, we just had to just smash it out as fast as we could. And hopefully, everybody likes the results.

Gold miner Rick Ness is featured on Discovery's 'Gold Rush.'

Gold miner Rick Ness is featured on Discovery's 'Gold Rush.' (Discovery)

Fox News: What kept you going during those tough times, especially after having a bad year?
Ness: I think that pretty much provided all the drive I needed this year. I had one goal in mind and that was redemption, and it would have been nice if everybody hadn't been affected by COVID, and I'd had a full shot at it. But at that point, it didn't matter. Redemption was all that was on my mind and I wasn't going to take no for an answer. I was going after it.

Fox News: How did the coronavirus pandemic impact the gold mining industry?
Ness: I mean, speaking for myself, it took me about six weeks to be able to cross the border because my operation is in the Yukon territory of Canada. And even though I'm a business owner there, I still am a citizen of the United States and the border was closed. So, it took me quite a while to get up there.

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But… I’m in the middle of nowhere in the woods. And there's almost nowhere better you can be than in the Yukon during something like that. I mean, the population is so sparse that there's only... For every one person, I think there are 100 square miles of land.

Discovery's 'Gold Rush' follows the lives of ambitious miners as they aim to strike it rich.

Discovery's 'Gold Rush' follows the lives of ambitious miners as they aim to strike it rich. (Edward Gorsuch/Discovery)

But I had to report to the government, I had to do a quarantine, and I had to have all this planning and everything in place and documented for my business. We were very lucky to be able to operate, but we were definitely still affected.

Fox News: How frustrating was it for you to be at home in lockdown for months at a time when it seemed like it was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of gold mining?
Ness: This spring was one of the most frustrating parts of my life. I mean, I was at home, here in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I haven't been home in April in nine years since I started doing this and it was just bizarre. And the gold prices were going up and fuel prices were just way down. That’s like the magic formula for my business. And so, to say it was frustrating is putting it mildly.

Fox News: When it comes to gold mining, is it safe to say that it's one industry that seems to be thriving, even during the pandemic, or is it still struggling in many ways?
Ness: Well, I don't have my finger on the pulse of the entire gold mining industry. What I do, the way that we're placer mining, it's pretty secluded, pretty lonely, and you're pretty disconnected from the rest of the world. 

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Mining for gold isn't for the faint of heart.

Mining for gold isn't for the faint of heart. (Edward Gorsuch/Discovery)

But I will say, from my end, I mean, yes, we were deemed essential and we were able to work, which I feel very lucky for that, but we were definitely still affected the whole time. We rely on everything getting shipped to us, from our food to our parts or fuel. And every single one of those things was affected by the pandemic. So it was tough.

Fox News: You were previously a musician. Is it true your family initially had a difficult time processing the fact that you wanted to pursue gold mining?
Ness: Well, my family had a difficult time processing just about everything I wanted to do growing up *laughs*.

Rick Ness was a musician before he pursued gold mining.

Rick Ness was a musician before he pursued gold mining. (Discovery)

But yeah, I spent most of my 20s as a full-time touring musician. And that's a hard thing to explain to your family. Because, I mean, I was very busy. I was on the road, I got to see the world when I was touring eight months of the year, but I wasn't making a ton of money at it. 

I don't think really think my family understood that. And then all of a sudden, I pivot out of left field and I say, "I'm going to do gold mining." And I think my dad must have thought I was crazy or I was mispronouncing something wrong. But I was just like, "Well, I'll see you later. I'm going to Alaska." And even that took a couple of years of convincing… But, I'm pretty sure I've convinced him that it was the right move.

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​ 'Gold Rush' is recognized as Discovery’s most-watched series.

​ 'Gold Rush' is recognized as Discovery’s most-watched series. (Discovery)

Fox News: What’s one misconception you feel people still have about gold mining today and what's the reality?
Ness: Before I got into gold mining, I guess I would have had the same thought - some old-timey guy with a pan in a creek. And I guess it's come a long way. Often a lot of people do think underground as well, and that's something that I'd never do. I do something called placer mining, and that's basically above-ground mining.

For years he has worked with mining prodigy Parker Schnabel, rising to rank of foreman. Two years ago, Rick struck off on his own.

For years he has worked with mining prodigy Parker Schnabel, rising to rank of foreman. Two years ago, Rick struck off on his own. (Discovery)

Some things have come a long way, some things haven't. We use obviously big, 70 ton machines, excavators, rock trucks and dozers. But at the end of the day, we're still processing it through our wash plant. And the end result is, is when it goes through the sluice box, is what it's called, and sluice boxes have been around since those early days. And they really haven't changed much. Yeah, in some ways it's very different in some ways it's exactly the same.

Fox News: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue gold mining?
Ness: It’s not a hard thing to get into, but at the same time it is. I mean, it's not happening everywhere. Honestly, it can be a very well-paying gig. And a lot of times it's seasonal.

Rick Ness pouring gold.

Rick Ness pouring gold. (Discovery)

I run my company six months a year and it's really tough work though, that's the thing. I guess I would say to somebody, you'd better prepare yourself to work like you never have. I mean, personally, I spend six months... I work 100 hours a week plus, we don't take days off, and it's not for everybody. But hey, if you want to try it, go for it.

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“Gold Rush” airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on Discovery.