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(News-Press.com) - A bait-store-on-the-water operation that began as a joke two years ago grew by 50 percent this week with the placement of a 1,500-square-foot floating house in a cove along the Caloosahatchee River.

Jasper's Bait has been open for about two years, company co-owner William Neale, 50, of Cape Coral, said, with a 50-foot Jefferson Sportfisher supplying bait, tackle and more anchored in the area of Big Shell Island off Shell Point.

"It started as a joke with my half-brother," Neale said. "We were looking for a way to stay on the water and not get yelled at." The operation's name comes from Neale's Rhodesian ridgeback dog, Jasper.

A few months ago Neale, a former real estate agent and web designer, and his half-brother, Art Smith, of Fort Myers, 47, and a former area contractor, figured it was time to grow.

A floating, motorless home built as a TV series set came to their attention.

Jason Jarrett, an employee at Jasper's Bait, said the company purchased the house on a barge in St. Petersburg.

"It was used in a movie called 'Thunder in Paradise' with Hulk Hogan," said Jarrett.

Neale said the house was built as Hogan's home in what was actually a very short-lived TV series in 1994. The series — one season only — portrayed Hogan as a ex-Navy SEAL-turned-mercenary who hired himself out as a soldier of fortune.

After the show tanked the house barge passed through several owners, Neale said. "A bar bought it. And it was then donated to a school to teach disadvantaged kids about the water."

Neale said the school stopped using it and it was sold to a tow boat operator. "I bought it from him," Neale said. "I got a good deal."

For a 20-year-old on-the-water vessel, what Neale is calling the Jasper II, is in very good shape. The basis is a Carolina skiff hull, Neale said, with a wooden 2-story house.

"The structure and the barge are sound," he said. "We will replace the walkways."

The barge was being moved Wednesday and Thursday by Jonathan Blake and Capt. Dan Medina, of TowBoat U.S., but delayed a day by a passing thunderstorm. It was put into place by mid-morning Thursday.

"The hard part is the free structure," Blake said. "It acts like a big sail."

The move was to a spot across from Tarpon Point in what some call Kinzie Cove or Popcorn Cove.

"It's got 87 different names," Neale said. "It's where our current bait boat is anchored."

The new bait boat was set to open today , he said, and the original bait boat was to head to Boca Grande to set up in time for this week's annual tarpon fishing tournament.

"This is a nice expansion," Smith added. "It is a unique service not offered in the area. We're real pleased and happy."

Neale said he had to go through a lot of permitting and phone calls before they could even consider opening as a bait shop on the water. "I got permission from everybody and their mother," he said. "We are licensed for everything."

Neale has plans to offer more than just a pull-up-and-get-bait operation. "We will be 24/7, 365," he said, with upstairs bedroom for staffers. "We will have bait, soda, hot dogs, and fishing supplies."

And, honoring his dog Jasper, the store provides dog treats to boaters who have their canines.

He said the house should be ready within two months so boaters can board for bait and supplies. Eventually there will be personal watercraft for rent, prospective fishermen can reserve specific baits and there will be a bait delivery service for anglers on the water who run out of bait and don't want to leave a productive fishing spot.

"Even if I charge them a premium, it will be cheaper for them than spending $40 in fuel to pull up anchor and come to us," he said.

Neale added that he will offer only locally caught bait, which he gets direct from a bait boat. "It helps our local economy and keeps the bait alive longer," he said. He lauded Steve Booty from Quality Baits for helping Jasper's Bait get started. "He bent over backward to help us," he said.

Thunder in Paradise

• Cast: Hulk Hogan, Chris Lemmon, Russ Wheeler, Carol Alt, Ashley Gorrell , Tommy Mack Turvey, Kiki Shepard, Patrick Macnee.

• About the series: Randolph Spencer (Hogan) and Martin Brubaker (Lemmon) were ex-Navy SEALS-turned-mercenaries who hired themselves out as soldiers of fortune for a very high fee. On their missions, Spence and Bru relied heavily on Thunder, which was a souped-up, gadget-ridden speedboat originally built by Spence for the U.S. Government.

• The series, produced by MGM and Disney Television, aired as a movie overseas.

Jasper's Bait

Contact at (239) 699-3469 or jaspersbait@gmail.com. Store open 24 hours, seven days a week.

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