CORTEZ – “Go big,” Eric Grimes likes to say.
So why not commission a life-size replica of the biggest, baddest, meaner-than-a junkyard-dog hammerhead shark ever known to prowl southwest Florida’s waters?
“Ol’ Hitler” is slated to greet people at the luxury vacation motor coach resort and marina that Grimes is planning at the canalfront 17.8-acre property at 12444 Cortez Road W. His company, Florida Land Enterprises, recently purchased the land, formerly known as Hunter’s Hill and HH Marina and tentatively renamed “Capt. Frank’s” after Grimes’ grandfather.
Grimes said customers and motorists going to the beach will stop to have their pictures taken with Ol’ Hitler and write their names on a chalkboard hanging on the dock as if they had caught the beast themselves.
Cortez artist Rose Lipke, festival committee chairman for the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, is making the 24-foot fish from foam and fiberglass, kind of like a surfboard, in an old garage on the property. People waiting at the bus stop out front have been curious about what she’s doing, she said.
Ol’ Hitler is more than a local legend. Probably a girl – hammerhead females are generally larger than males – the shark has not only been reported off Anna Maria Island, but from Tampa Bay south to Florida’s 10,000 Islands.
Recognized as real on Shark Week on cable TV’s Discovery Channel, Ol’ Hitler is dark – hammerheads are thought to be able to tan if they spend a lot of time cruising near the water’s surface – and sports a swastika-shaped scar that gave birth to a moniker that may also be a reference to shark-shaped German submarines that patrolled local waters during World War II.
It’s not the first time Ol’ Hitler has been on TV. Before cable was invented, Tampa outdoorsman “Salty” Sol Fleischman of WTVT-TV Channel 13 spread the shark’s lore on the airwaves. Longer than some fishing boats, Ol’ Hitler has reputedly been shot, harpooned, stabbed and axed, but the legend swims on.
That legend is probably a combination of shark tales that date back longer than any one hammerhead could live – up to 50 years.
But there’s no arguing the fact that southwest Florida waters, with their plentiful hammerhead fare, tarpon, are a favorite hangout for really big hammerheads.
In 2006, a 14.5-foot, 1,280-pound hammerhead was brought to A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez to be put on ice. The International Game Fish Association awarded Capt. Bucky Dennis a sport fishing world record title for catching the fish, which he hooked about 300 yards off Boca Grande beach.
In true “Ol’ Hitler” style, the shark towed Dennis’ boat 12 miles from Boca Grande Pass, for five and a half hours.
Long live the legend.