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Fishing, Kayaking Gain in Popularity in Ohio Valley During COVID-19 Pandemic

Cabela’s employee Brendon Sprowls looks over some fishing gear while preparing for the store’s two-week 2021 Spring Fishing Classic sale beginning Thursday. Photo by Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — Spring is right around the corner, which means the chance to hit the local waters, either with a fishing pole or a kayak, is coming, too.

And with the limitations the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, both outdoor activities have become even more popular.

Tyler Harto, operations/camping & gifts manager for Cabela’s at The Highlands in Ohio County, said the store has seen a tremendous increased interest in fishing and kayaking since the onset of the pandemic last year. Locally, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources stocked trout at areas like Big Wheeling Creek and Bear Rock Lake several weeks ago.

“Anything really in the outdoors, where they could go outside and distance themselves, we’ve definitely had increases with during the pandemic,” Harto said.

Harto said that, early on in the pandemic, the store sold out of kayaks for a short period due to the tremendous interest in exploring the outdoors.

“We would put two or three (kayaks) out and they would be gone the same day,” Harto said.

The store is now fully stocked with fishing and kayaking supplies going into this spring season, Harto said, and Cabela’s has moved a lot of its fishing gear closer to the entrance of the store. The store’s two-week 2021 Spring Fishing Classic sale begins March 11 and, as part of the event, shoppers can trade in an old rod or reel for a discount on a new one.

“It’s the first big fishing event of the year, Harto said.

One of the things that really helped boost an interest in fishing during the pandemic, Harto said, is when West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice permitted free fishing for state residents during the spring of 2020. According to a DNR representative, free fishing was permitted in the months of April and May last year. Harto said it was during that time that Cabela’s experienced a tremendous boost in sales in both fishing gear and kayaks.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources also saw a big increase in people enjoying the outdoors in the last year, many of those looking to make a big catch on Ohio’s rivers and lakes, according to Stephanie O’Grady, media and outreach specialist for the ODNR. The ODNR issued close to 1 million fishing licenses in 2020, the most permits sold in 25 years. In addition, fishing license sales increased 8 percent from 2019 to 2020. The biggest increase was the active resident license, which went up 13 percent as of January 5.

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