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‘They call me the fish man’
by Garrett Valenzuela
May 01, 2013 | 4711 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Jack Ross, senior engineer at John Ascuaga's Nugget, reaches up the 75-gallon fish tank at Trader Dick's restaurant inside the casino. Ross has been caring for the fish and their housing since he began at the Nugget more than six years ago.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Jack Ross, senior engineer at John Ascuaga's Nugget, reaches up the 75-gallon fish tank at Trader Dick's restaurant inside the casino. Ross has been caring for the fish and their housing since he began at the Nugget more than six years ago.
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SPARKS — An array of colors brazen across dozens of fish amidst the light blue water dart toward the southern corner of the 5,000-gallon saltwater tank at Trader Dick’s restaurant as if a fresh batch of food just fell inside.

While the feast has yet to enter the water, the fish are scurrying for another reason — their caretaker has just come into view. Jack Ross, a senior engineer at the Nugget, has been looking after the aquatic life inside the casino since he first became employed at the Nugget more than six years ago.

Ross sits at a table inside Trader Dick’s, in clear view of his beloved fish tank, as he explains some of his duties in caring for, selecting and housing the fish he has grown so familiar with.

“All the guys around here tell me they are my kids,” Ross said shooting a look at the fish. “They call me the fish man, and I have all kinds of nicknames. I am the roof man, the fish man, lightbulb man and all that stuff.”

Ross has embraced his versatility behind the scenes at the Sparks casino and even said the electrical engineering side of things happens to be his favorite. While he enjoys bouncing from task to task in various fields of work, he can usually be found high up on a ladder with his hand inside the fish tank, dropping one of his famous home-brewed oysters.

“We get oyster shells, deep ones from the restaurant, and I will drill a hole through them and put stainless steel wires in them,” Ross said. “I will get raw seafood mix, different flakes for the little guys, different types of color enhancing pellets in there, vitamin C for their immune system and top if off with a little garlic extract.”

Though keeping an exact count is an impossible task for the fish tank, which Ross pointed out holds 3,000 pounds of sand and is four feet longer than a Greyhound bus, he can usually tell when a fish is missing and which ones are hiding in the coral throughout the tank.

As one can imagine, keeping the tank clean and looking spotless comes with plenty of tasks.

“I do about two water changes a week and with about 500 gallons of water per week,” Ross said. “I will do that for about a month and then I will let it go for about a month and come back and do it again. One of the things is tanks this size will have an algae problem. One of the problems with algae is you get it from either bad water movement in the tank, too much heat or even overfeeding them. That will cause algae problems.”

Ross has spent hundreds of hours researching, ordering and acclimating the fish in the Nugget tanks and said other than minor help from cleaning and swing-shift crews, he is the only person working on the fish tank.

“I have been here about six and a half years and as far as I know I haven’t missed a day of work,” Ross said. “I can’t go out of town because if something goes wrong with the fish tank, nobody knows how to do it. I would rather have my guys calling me than John Ascuaga calling me saying ‘my fish tank is messed up come fix it.’”

Ross said the engineering crew at the Nugget helps keep him motivated to remain current on the various machines he works on, and it also has him continually trying to improve the marine life.

“We work really good as a crew,” he said. “If we need help then we will put our stuff aside and help somebody else if it is important for the casino.”

Before moving to Sparks nearly seven years ago, Ross lived in southern California where he spent the majority of his down time on the beach or scuba diving near Catalina Island. Ross also grew up among a family of bowlers, which happens to be the sport that brought him to the area as a head mechanic for AMF Corporation. Though Ross currently battles arthritis and does not get much scuba diving in, he said he enjoys watching the Reno Aces and taking leisurely walks around the Sparks Marina.

After a tour of the filtering system maintaining the Trader Dick’s fish tank, Ross was able to sum up his duties at the Nugget in just one sentence. Which cliché you use — jack of all trades, wearer of many hats — is up to you.

“I go wherever they need me to go to try to fix whatever needs to be fixed,” he said.

Ross' Favorites

Food: Mexican or Italian

TV Show: Get Smart

Book: anything about fish

Sports team: Denver Broncos

Hobby: Building/flying RC planes
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