It's 1988. Bert's Bar owner Bernard Johnson is onboard the charter boat Billfisher with Billy Bob Barnett, owner of Billy Bob's Texas, the world's largest honky tonk, and Captain Bill Kieldsen when he hooks into the catch of his life.
"I'd been fishing with Captain Bill for years and always had good luck," recalls Johnson. "But never did I expect to hook into and catch an eight-foot shark!"
Captain Bill suggested that Johnson have the shark mounted and sent the skin up to Grey Taxidermy in Miami, known as one of the best taxidermists in South Florida. The mounted shark was then sent up to Johnson. "It was great but it was so big, I didn't know what to do with it. I put it in the storage area at Bert's Bar and there it sat," recalls Johnson.
Bert’s Pine Bay Gallery features the largest selection of Crocs footwear in Southwest Florida.
Fast forward to January of 2005. Johnson's Bert's Pine Bay Gallery, which had opened in 2003, was finally ready to reopen after it was almost demolished during August 2004's Hurricane Charley. "We had to almost rebuild the whole thing and, of course, I had a new roof put on and got a new sign painted by local artist Mel Meo. But the roof looked so baren, the old roof had a lot of character," Johnson said.
One day, Meo was in Bert's Bar's storage area and spotted the mounted shark. "Let me paint it and we'll put it up on the gallery eave with the sign," Meo requested of Johnson. He wasn't so sure. "I had such good memories of catching that shark. Painting it somehow didn't seem right," he said. "But Mel talked me into it."
Meo removed the shark from its mounting and painted it yellow. It was then attached to the gallery eave and she went to work. "I thought she'd paint it and then put it up, but there she was standing on the roof painting my shark," Johnson recalls.
The shark was a big hit and became a Matlacha landmark. Then in 2008 another hurricane threatened the island. "I didn't want to lose it so I had it taken down and put it back in the storage area," Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Johnson and his son Jay, who operates Bubba's Roadhouse in Cape Coral, went on a fishing trip in the Keys. Jay caught a good-sized shark which he had mounted and then hung in one the restaurant's rooms. "It became known as the 'shark room," Johnson explained, "so I sent my shark over there."
Deb Cole, manager of the Pine Bay Gallery, had been hearing from returning visitors and residents alike that they missed the shark. "He was definitely missed," she said. "I kept asking and asking Bernard to put it back up.I'm glad he decided to but it took three years to bring him home. I hope he's back to stay."