The Nevada Department of Wildlife once again partnered with the Sparks Rotary, Nevada Bighorns Unlimited, the City of Sparks, and Safari Club International to bring the community Kids Free Fishing Day at the Sparks Marina. On June 10, around 1,500 kids and their families enjoyed free fishing, face painting, bounce houses, various other activities and lunch including hot dogs and ice cream in this one-of-a-kind event.
“We had a great turnout, the weather was good, and a lot of the kids caught their first fish,” says NDOW Statewide Outdoor Education Coordinator Aaron Keller. He said that they placed about 8,000 rainbow trout into the Sparks Marina on the Wednesday prior to Free Fishing Day and believes about 1,000 fish were caught. The trout swam around in the 300-foot nets and then released back into the marina afterwards.
“We fish so much we forget how awesome it is to catch your first fish,” Keller says. “They don’t know how to react…they think the fish will bite them or they carry it around for as long as they can; it doesn’t matter how big it is. One 5-year-old carried his fish around for an hour,” he adds. It’s a memorable experience catching your first fish, even better now that it can now be documented with camera-enabled smartphones.
Plus, thanks to the partnership with the Sparks Rotary, every kid leaves with a free T-shirt and fishing pole after their day of fun.
“Then they’re all set up. We give them recommendations on where to fish and a lot of them just got out of school and can start planning their next trip,” says Keller. “Parents were trying to give their fishing poles back and were thrilled to hear that they could keep them. A lot of them haven’t fished before, so Free Fishing Day provides the perfect opportunity for families to spend the day together in an activity they may have never tried.”
Kids Free Fishing Day events are hosted all over the place, but Keller believes that the Sparks event is one of the largest possibly in the world. “There are years when there have been 3,000-plus people who’ve come out; this is the largest kids fishing event we can find. Florida comes close, but this is a huge event,” says Keller.
However, it wouldn’t be possible without the 100 or so volunteers that work on the day of the event and 20-30 that work behind the scenes leading up to it.
“This takes a lot of planning and logistics,” he says. “I want to say a huge thank you to the volunteers for helping families spend a day together doing something they may have never done before. A lot of people came up to me and said they made their fishing experience so easy, and it’s because of the volunteers helping to prepare the hooks, load the bait on them, and help out.”
He said that the age of kids fishing ranged from 2-14 years old, but people of all ages were at the Sparks Marina participating in various activities. The Sparks Fire Department, Police Department, Coast Guard, and other entities also hosted fun and educational booths to augment the fishing events.
Although there isn’t a solid way of tracking how many kids stick with the sport, NDOW sees the Free Fishing Day poles out in the ponds.
“They’re popping up at urban ponds around town and fisherman notice those poles as well and let us know,” says Keller. “We can track who buys licenses, but kids don’t have to buy a license until they are 12 years old,” he adds. That leaves plenty of years of free fishing.
Keller’s favorite part of the event was definitely watching kids catch their first fish. “The smiles on their faces is just awesome,” he says.
“We want people to get out there and check out all the great waters that Nevada has to offer, and maybe if you like what you see, you will think about buying a license for the year or a short term permit,” Keller adds.
Kids Free Fishing Day is a statewide event that takes place every second Saturday in June. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.