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During the DNR’s annual fishing derby at Raleigh County’s Little Beaver State Park, kids and parents line the banks. This year’s derby on June 12 will mark the event’s 30th anniversary.

West Virginia’s celebration of Free Fishing Days is one of the few events last year that the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cancel.

“We held our annual fishing derby, as planned, at Little Beaver State Park [near Beckley],” said Mark Scott, chief of fisheries for the state Division of Natural Resources. “We held off for a month and held it in July, but we continued the streak.”

This year’s celebration at Little Beaver will take place on June 12. Scott said that to his knowledge, it’s the only public event that will take place during the state’s two Free Fishing Days, scheduled for June 12-13.

The annual tradition of offering Free Fishing Days — days on which adults are allowed to fish without having to purchase fishing licenses — dates back more than 30 years, when the “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs” campaign originated.

“Our [DNR] bosses at the time urged us to hold a fishing derby for young people in each of our management districts,” Scott recalled. “I helped start the one at Little Beaver. This year’s celebration will mark our 30th year of holding it.”

In the past, DNR officials have held a parallel event at the Bowden Fish Hatchery, near Elkins.

This year, however, an ongoing renovation project at the facility made the site unsafe for large crowds.

The Little Beaver event will begin at 9 a.m. and end at noon. Registration will take place from 9-10:30 a.m., and all participants must be registered.

Scott said people who live too far away to attend the formal event should still take advantage of the two Free Fishing Days.

“Just take your kids fishing somewhere,” he recommended. “Make it a family event. Take the kids to a sunfish pond and fish worms under a bobber.

“If the kids want to chuck rocks in the pond, let them chuck rocks. Make it all about having fun, not all about catching fish.”

He said adults who haven’t fished before can get advice at the DNR’s regional offices.

“If you have questions — maybe you don’t know how to tie on a hook, or where to go — talk to our fisheries guys at the district offices,” he added. “They all fish, and they’re happy to help kids get into it.”

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