Youths make most of Free Fishing Day

Despite the severe heat that enveloped the Las Vegas area Saturday, hundreds of anglers made their way to the valley’s urban ponds to take advantage of Nevada’s Free Fishing Day. And why not? That is the one day each year when anyone can fish in the Silver State without having to first procure a fishing license.

At Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder City, the pond was surrounded by anglers of all experience levels — from the grizzled veteran to the novice. It was here where I met 6-year-old Dante, a would-be angler from Las Vegas who brought his parents to the park for a day of relaxation and to try his hand at catching a fish.

I first noticed Dante and his folks as they walked the shoreline searching for a place to cast their lines. They seemed unsure of themselves, so I asked if they needed help. Dante’s dad held up three fishing rods and a cup filled with mealworms. “I haven’t had much experience with fishing,” he said.

Though shade was at a premium, a family fishing nearby slid to one side, making room for Dante and his parents in the shadow cast by a medium-sized tree. After showing them how to bait their hooks with mealworms, I demonstrated how to use a spincasting reel and dropped the mealworm where the pond’s light-colored bottom meets the dark grass bed. Just as Dante took hold of the rod’s handle, a scrappy bluegill shot out from the shadows and hammered the mealworm.

As Dante reeled in his fish, those standing nearby erupted with cheers and words of congratulations. With a fish to his credit, Dante no longer was a would-be angler but an angler-in-training.

After helping Dante release the fish and then put his line back in the water, I turned to help his father but was interrupted when Dante caught another fish. This scenario played out another three of four times until others volunteered to help so Dante’s father would get a chance to fish. Among them was Bob Gaudet, a longtime volunteer with the Wildlife Department’s Angler Education Program. Knowing Dante and his parents were in better hands, I moved on but chuckled every time I saw them catch and release another fish.

Later in the day, I had the chance to help two other novice anglers get their start as anglers-in-training. Only this time they were the next generation of Nielsens: my 5-year-old grandson, Kylan, and his 4-year-old sister, Leighton. Following the example set by Dante, the kids baited up with mealworms and placed their offerings where the light-colored bottom and the dark grass beds come together. This time the bluegill were more cautious than they had been earlier, and patience became the key to success.

Just as Kylan’s patience was reaching its end, a hungry bluegill slipped out of the grass and grabbed his mealworm. Kylan excitedly turned the reel’s handle and brought the fish to shore. He caught and released another half-dozen fish over the next 15 or 20 minutes, and somewhere along the line Leighton got in on the act as well.

Since these were the kids’ first fish, a photograph or two was in order. Kylan posed proudly with his rod and fish, unafraid to share with the world his feelings of joy. Leighton, on the other hand, did fine until the fish she held showed its displeasure at having its photo taken. The fish wiggled wildly and Leighton responded by throwing both the rod and the fish at the photographer. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” she exclaimed and then scampered away.

Neither Dante nor Kylan are boys of many words, but the expressions on their faces said volumes. Though Leighton didn’t like posing with a fish, it didn’t take her long to reel in another. I guess you can say that fishing is catching.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at

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