To sell more gear, Cabela's simulates the Great Outdoors. Live game fish school in glass-walled aquariums, and stuffed megafauna herd overhead at the retailer's hangar-sized stores on the edge of whitetail-deer country in Hamburg, Pa., or at the heart of tax-free-shopping territory in Newark, Del.
So what brings Cabela's to Chester, the shrunken industrial city at the foot of the Commodore Barry Bridge?
"Your waterway there, the Delaware River, is super-good for the sport of catfishing," says Darrell Van Vactor, operations manager at Kentucky-based King Kat USA.
"It's a great location, central for a lot of people," on a stretch of the Delaware that otherwise has limited public access, Eric Williams, a Cabela's marketing manager, told me.
King Kat runs catfish tournaments sponsored and staffed by Cabela's. Most are in the Midwest, or down South.
On Saturday, the King Kat "Tournament Trail" makes its only East Coast stop this year in Chester, where three dozen teams of catfishers from several states, and their motorboats, have registered for the daylong competition.
Boats will steer from the state pier at the foot of the bridge, by the Philadelphia Union soccer stadium, at 6:30 a.m. A "fishing rodeo" for kids under 13 (adult companions required) will run from 8 to 11 a.m. at Ethel Waters Park, 291 Edgmont Ave. Cabela's will give out some rods. Zitner's will pass out candy. Competitors will bring their five fattest live fish to the Harrah's casino at the north end of town for weighing and awards at 4 p.m.
The prizes are modest: Two Gibbsboro men shared $2,500 with a catch totaling 40 pounds last time the tour stopped here, in 2012. That's a sliver of the $100,000 "Ike" Iaconelli of Salem County won on the four-day Bassmaster 2014 bass-fishing competition in the river just north of Philadelphia, which drew 37,000 fans, according to organizers. The catfish winners caught as much finned protein in one day as the bassmen caught in four days.
"Bass is the NFL of fishing," rich from ESPN and Fishing Channel TV contracts and more than half of national fishing sales, says Todd Pride, head of Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers in Philadelphia.
"Catfish is the big thing in our part of the river," says Chester native Mike Homola, who grew up fishing the Delaware (also suckers, sunnies, and shad, in season) from canoes.
Homola will team with Mike Del Rossi at Saturday's event. He says they are "strictly catch and release," though Van Vactor says some fry and eat their extras. There are state guidelines limiting consumption of river fish, Homola notes, given the Delaware's industrial history and lingering toxic elements, though he says the waters have cleared and produced more fish as industries shut and "crick" dams are cleared.
Delaware River catfish don't grow to teenager-sized Mississippi River proportions, Van Vactor acknowledges. But Chester is much more convenient for many current and potential anglers.
"Most of your catfish entrants are blue-collar workers who have picked up on the competitive aspect," he told me.
The 2012 tournament was suggested to Chester leaders by then-State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D., Delaware). Lentz, now an attorney at the Philadelphia law firm Bochetto & Lentz, credited Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland's administration with inviting the tour back this year as a way to raise the profile of a city that too often makes the news for youth shootings.
"We contacted Cabela's 18 months ago," said Drake Nakaishi, the city's economic-development director. "We wanted to create opportunities to get a positive story out about Chester." The city located hotel space with secure boat parking and lined up business sponsors.
Rob Zarko, who lives in Wallingford and owns Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven, is giving contestants beer. He told me he's scouting Chester as a site for a second brewery.
"It's not a big economic engine in itself; it won't drive a lot of sales," Nakaishi acknowledges. "But we want people to see what the city is, and the attraction of Chester's waterfront."