It happens every year: the annual fish derby that Spring Valley State Park hosts for Nevada’s Free Fishing Day, which has been sponsored by

Armando Garcia, 10, from Las Vegas, had great success fishing last Saturday. Among the many fish he caught was the tagged fish, worth a $10,000 scholarship.

It happens every year: the annual fish derby that Spring Valley State Park hosts for Nevada’s Free Fishing Day, which has been sponsored by Nevada Department of Wildlife for the last 19 years. The state park decided four or five years ago to do something for the children, and started offering a derby contest the same day.

“Hooked on fish, not on drugs,” says Ben Johnson, park supervisor of Spring Valley State Park. “That’s our motto.” 

Tagged fish fill the reservoir with many $100 prizes, a $5,000 scholarship and a $10,000 scholarship and anglers flock to compete for prizes. The reservoir plays host to a few fish derbies over the year, but never before has there been an angler who has caught the $10,000 prize.

It was almost as if people were unaware of the prize just given out. Johnson stunned the guests by letting them know Armando Garcia, a 10-year-old from Las Vegas, did not win a $100 prize. He followed up letting them know Garcia did not win the $5,000 prize. Finally, he announced that Garcia was in fact the $10,000 scholarship winner. After letting that sink in a few moments, Garcia’s eyes became big and teary, and his family surrounding him were overcome with joy. Later, it was learned that the Garcia family has been visiting the area and specifically, attending the fish derby for the last few years.

Three other anglers were awarded $100 tagged fish prizes.

Dawn Andone, park interpreter for  Cathedral Gorge, said, “it was probably the best weather we’ve ever had,” although the reservoir was the lowest many of the rangers had seen in years.

For the annual free fishing day, state park entry fees were waived this year, as part of the sesquicentennial year. Almost 400 participants signed up for the derby, although there were more who were fishing. 

Andone reported that both the campground sites were full, always proving a good turnout.

Children were divided into age groups, each weighing their fish for prizes. Fishing poles are purchased by the park and given out to the children who participate. This year, about 285 were donated along with the raffled prizes.

Lunch was served to hungry patrons. Laura Johnson, wife of Ben, helps the events tremendously, this year providing barbecue rib tips, baked beans, chips and water.

The state parks get very active in the county during the summer. Next week, Beaver Dam State Park will play host to the annual Gravel Grinder. This year, the trek will cover 35 miles, as opposed to the fifteen miles provided last year. They’ve added track to the mountain bike course.

Andone said, “we’ll go through the old homesteads, through the Barclay school house,” and by many more scenic places along the track.

Last year, the event was held the first week of the month of June, and didn’t work as well being held on the same day as Lincoln Communities Actions Team (LCAT) Trails Day. “We’re hoping this will be the week,” Andone said. 

Lunch will be served at the gathering, with the help of donations from Blue Lizard Farm and Great Basin Foods in Caliente. Last minute signups will be available on the website:, although Andone noted that next year, they hope to have their own website.