"Of course there are exceptions to every rule," Forte explained. "We have had two catfish that ate everything they could swallow, so we returned them to their natural habitat."
The pipes, pumps, filters, and holding tanks required to maintain the 55,000-gallon fish habitat take up more space than the tanks themselves. And the view from above the tanks gives a more realistic picture of the fish below. Forte says, "When visitors look through the thick tank windows in the store, the fish appear about 30 percent smaller than they really are."
At the rear of the store, a 56-degree stream cascades down the habitat 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 and swipe a trout.
When I ask Forte where the infrastructure to support the trout exhibit is located, he smiles and replies, "It's all inside the mountain."
Spend an hour watching fish at Cabela's, and anglers can learn a lot about fish behavior. Observe how they swim, eat, and respond to other fish. It's invaluable information for anglers trying to hook wild fish.
Cabela's website (www.cabelas.com) lists 43 stores in 25 states and three Canadian provinces, and most are conveniently located along interstate highways. They range in size from 35,000 square feet in Kearney, Neb. to 250,000 square feet in Hamburg, Pa. The Wheeling store comes in at 175,000 square feet. A new store opened last year in Charleston and another last month in Columbus, Ohio.
Perhaps the best way to judge Cabela's as a destination is to survey the license plates in the parking lot. Customers drive hundreds of miles for the Cabela's experience. And while long-distance customers surely come to shop, I prefer to enjoy the live fish displays and the superb mounted specimens that inhabit the store. And unlike most "destinations," entry to Cabela's is free.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or email sshala...@aol.com.