When the Wheeling Cabela's store opened in 2004, it was billed as a "destination." Give it a few months, I thought, and it will be just another outdoors store. I could not have been more wrong.
According to Cabela's retail marketing manager, Bud Forte, 4 million shoppers visited the Wheeling store last year. The mail-order outfitter's regional retail outlet is certainly an impressive outdoors store, but it's the museum quality displays that appeal to me. Virtually all the game birds and mammals of North America can be found throughout the store, and live fish occupy huge tanks and a chilly trout stream. If I taught a class in wildlife conservation, I'd schedule a field trip to Cabela's.
Spring is the perfect time to visit Cabela's to study fish behavior. An hour spent watching fish swim, hunt and respond to other fish is time well spent, especially for hopeful anglers.
"We try to display most of the indigenous fish found in the Ohio River drainage -- catfish, bass, gar, crappie, sunfish," Forte explained during a behind-the-scenes tour of the fish tanks. "The water is maintained at a constant 64 degrees. We employ two full-time curators who maintain the tanks and feed the fish. They enter the tanks at least twice a week to clean the 4-inch-thick acrylic windows."
The pipes, pumps, filters and holding tanks required to maintain the 55,000-gallon fish habitat take up more space than the tanks themselves.
At the rear of the store, a cold 56-degree stream cascades down a mountain into a trout pond filled with rainbow, brown, brook and golden rainbow trout. At times it almost seems one of the mounted raccoons will slip into the stream to swipe a trout.
Forte said the infrastructure to support the trout exhibit is, "all inside the mountain."
Closer to home, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium offers similar viewing opportunities. Visitors will find fish from around the world and Pennsylvania, with a display of the official state fish coming soon.
"Brook trout will be added when they clear quarantine in a few weeks," said aquarist Rich Terrell.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.