I have always found fishing to be a humbling business. Once in Key West, while delicately whipping back a spinning rod to cast, I hooked my favorite uncle in the nostril, and a doctor was required to remove the grapple. More recently, fishing with handlines off Spanish Wells on the northern tip of Eleuthera, I systematically raked the bottom clean of kelp, then fouled the outboard engine bringing in a yellowtail and finally snared my wife in the breech of her Bermuda shorts. These are only two of many embarrassing fishing experiences.
But the enthusiasm I take to sea transcends the treachery of the water's inhabitants. (I share no one's passion for the fish, except for the gratification of eating them, which they would otherwise do themselves because they are natural cannibals.) I do not look to the sea for strength or solace. I enjoy it, that is all, and will jump at the chance to be around it and in it. If it is the Bahamas, that nearby Elysium of clear water and pink powdered-sugar beaches, I will jump all the quicker.
An unexpected chance came one evening last summer in Miami in the person of Mr. Billy Joe Curtis of Hangnail, Okla. Bill Curtis is a professional photographer, who six years ago yielded to the glamour of becoming a south Florida bonefish guide. Curtis said he had a great idea for an expedition into the Bahamas. He outlined a week in waters around Andros and the Berry Islands, where record-size blue marlin practically leap into the boat from the Northwest Providence Channel; he told of flats so thick with bonefish that they shimmered silver in the sun; of skies aflutter with teal and jacksnipe. He pictured lazy skin-diving and snorkeling excursions among the coral reefs, the tenement houses of the Great Bahama Bank. He said, to complete this, The Compleat Bahamas Safari, there could be trips ashore to hunt boar and poke around native villages.
Poking around native villages in the Bahamas is not, as recent slick-paper advertisements imply, poking around the lobby of the Holiday Inn at Freeport. Grand Bahama is geographically bound to the Bahamas but is really only a British concession to modern hedonism. It has gambling and high prices and unavoidable luxury, and someday it will sink into the Atlantic from the weight of American dollars.
The real Out Islands of the Bahamas were settled not by speculators but by loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, and if they had it to do over again they would. Good times—good fishing and good prices for the fish—have brought electricity and automobiles and outboard engines and even television (picked up from Miami by extra-elongated antennas) grinding down on these otherwise unspoiled enclaves. To prove, alas, that even these lovely people are not insensitive to such stimuli, you can, on a clear night in a place like Spanish Wells, hear pouring out from the wireless sets what my wife calls American white-knuckle music, or low-fi. This is music that, by the sound of it, requires the musicians to keep an extremely tight grip on their instruments.
To a man naturally intrigued by the Bahamas, however, the island of Andros is another cup of titillation. It is called Unknown Island by the authors of a definitive book on Nassau and the Bahama Out Islands, Sun'n Sixpence, and though that may be stretching a romanticism, it at least gives an inkling of the place. Andros is easily the largest of the Bahama chain—it is 100 miles long, 40 miles wide at the widest point. Many of its creeks, lakes and headlands are uncharted and, according to the book, its coastline was plotted inaccurately as late as 1963. The skimpy population—7,500 plus—is spread out in villages and settlements, mostly on the east coast. The west coast, which confronts the many square miles of shallow water (3 to 12 feet deep) known as The Mud, and the mysterious interior are left pretty much to the imagination. A band of Cuban exiles, having made their way across the interior from the west coast to Fresh Creek in 1962, told of seeing "the fires of unknown settlements" and of "innumerable deer and rookeries of flamingos" no one knew existed.
Many of Andros' settlements are entirely populated by Negroes, descendants of slaves freed by the British and left to devise a curious coalescence of faiths: evangelical Baptist, for example, with African Obeah. Curtis said that at Lowe Sound, one of these settlements at the north end, we could get native guides to take us to the backwaters, where there are thousands of ducks, and to the hills, where the wild boar play. Presumably these boar are the offspring of pigs set loose centuries ago by the conquistadores which have thrived in the bush and grown into huge herds of fiercely tusked animals with the long legs and quick movements of dogs. If they did not get you first, Curtis said, you could shoot as many as you pleased and roast them right there on the beach. There was a limit on duck, he said—50 to the man.
Curtis said he could not promise anything, but we might even see a chickcharney. The chickcharney (a more respectful double capitalization is often used: Chick Charney) is a leprechaun said to be indigenous to Andros. Not all Androsians believe in chickcharneys, and there are variations in eyewitness accounts of what they look like but, generally speaking, they are tree spirits, somewhat like frigate birds, feathered and fearsomely red-eyed. They hang from cottonwood branches by their three toes, or three fingers, and it is not always easy to tell when they are right side up. The chickcharneys were blamed for the failure of Neville Chamberlain's sisal plantation at Mastic Point in 1897, and it was hardly a surprise to those who knew of it to learn of Chamberlain's eventual disaster at Munich.
In time I was to meet a modern disciple of the chickcharney, our intrepid Negro guide from Lowe Sound, the redoubtable Ronald (Rudy) Knowles. Rudy's father, Granville Knowles, is a onetime preacher who does not believe in chickcharneys, but Rudy does not think his father knows all there is to know. From personal observations made at a respectful distance, Rudy Knowles adds these dimensions to the sylph: "It have a black ring around its neck, and it look like a dove. It makes nests you can see in the trees. I don't say nothing against them."
It took us some months to gather a compatible group and to map out an itinerary flexible enough for the caprices of January weather. The Bahamas' temperature range (63° to 88°) and prevailing winds (east and southeast trade winds) make for year-round mildness, but from November through April the islands are subject to what Bahamians call northers, chilling winds of 20 to 35 knots out of the north. A determination to get everything in might not be enough, for we had only a week, and two days of that were to be spent going and coming.
There were eight of us altogether, including Billy Joe Curtis (the idea man) and the two-man crew of the 48-foot, twin-engine charter boat Queen B. The Queen B is a broad-beamed, well-turned-out vessel that charters out of Key Biscayne; it was completed last October for $100,000 by its blond, crew-cut captain, Jim O'Neill, and outfitted with four trolling chairs and rod sockets on the bridge for two more lines. O'Neill is a conscientious young fisherman with an agreeable manner and a reputation for excellence as a sports-fishing guide, though he is only 31. His mate, 21-year-old J. C. Dobson, is a college dropout who figures to learn enough under O'Neill to qualify for a boat of his own some day.
O'Neill believes strongly in big-game fishing—blue marlin, sailfish, dolphin—and does not bother his head with the lesser quarry of shallow water. His antithesis, therefore, is Curtis, the light-tackle specialist—a one-eyed man with a russet complexion and skin the texture of a hatch cover. Curtis' sharply-angled nose and rakish overseer's straw hat give him a damn-the-torpedoes look when he is in action on the flats. He usually fishes around Miami and the Florida Keys, but he is now broadening out to learn what he can about the Bahamas.
We were ready to go at 7 on a Saturday morning in mid-January. The wind was up and the weather cool but not uncomfortable. O'Neill took the Queen B out Bear Cut south of Miami and into the wind toward Cat Cay. Curtis' Boston Whaler rode the wake from a tow-line. There were no secrets among us. One had never caught a bonefish. None had ever caught a marlin. Frank Mullins, a redhaired artist with a sensitive stomach, had never caught a fish of any kind.
The crossing to the British customs station at Cat Cay is 48 miles and takes roughly three and a half hours. We watched the Miami Beach hotels dissolve into the tangerine sky until they acquired the white, uneven silhouette of headstones. A tireless solitary gull beat its wings in our wake for what seemed an interminably long while, watching for garbage or something our prop might chew up and leave him, but then he turned off to follow the fat, plug-along freighters that pass in the Gulf Stream. They are surer providers.
At Cat Cay there was time, while O'Neill checked us in, for Frank to eat his third orange (he had brought two huge bags of apples and oranges to keep him healthy for the week) and for me to run out on the dock with my spinning rod to make a few unsuccessful casts alongside three natives who were fishing successfully for bonefish with handlines. They wanted to know if I thought I would catch anything with that little yellow sprig of hair caught on the tip of my line. I was advised to try crab meat.
From Cat Cay we went another 63 miles almost due east across the Great Bahama Bank to Chub Cay on the southernmost tip of the Berrys. Where before we had been in water more than a mile deep, on this huge shelf of sand and coral it was less than 15 feet, and the bottom rode with you all the way. The first day, predictably, had been consumed in preparation and travel, and at dusk we put into the American-owned Crown Colony Club. The mooring at Chub Cay is sheltered and the facilities are excellent, but long stays are not encouraged or recommended. (Captain O'Neill once got a towel laundered there for a dollar; his last—forevermore—laundry bill came to $48.)
The strategy was to divide up the party each day to make full use of our time. Two or three would stay on the big boat and troll for big fish. Curtis would take the others on the Whaler onto the flats and shallows for bonefish, tarpon and permit, or on a hunt for duck or wild boar. O'Neill's trolling area, one he knew, is a natural fish trap, where the deep waters—as deep as 1,000 fathoms—of what is called the Tongue of the Ocean jut up into the Great Bahama Bank between the Berrys and Andros. It is a natural 15-mile triangle beginning at Mamma Rhoda Cay at the tip of the Berrys, out to Northwest Channel Light, then down along the Joulters Cays (north of Andros) and back to Chub Cay.
Five minutes out of Chub Cay that first morning I had an 18-pound wahoo on the line, and, simultaneously, another in the party had a large barracuda. Before the day was over I also derricked up close enough for J. C. Dobson's gaff a 15-pound dolphin that, with the wahoo, would make our supper. The dolphin is a great fighter; it can stiffen your arms with its resistance and fascinate you with its brilliantly changing colors: first yellow and green, then aqua, chartreuse, azure, verdigris and, when it is dying in the well of the boat, streaks of brown. But it is even greater food, like breast of chicken.
The action thereafter was sporadic and the time taken up lazing on the bunk seats on the bridge, watching the bait skip along behind or listening to Coast Guard reports for possible intrigue: an 18-foot runabout was two days overdue at Nassau, an American sea captain could not spell the name of a Russian vessel he had spotted. The long periods spent hunched over the trolling reel as if it were a telephone about to ring seemed diminished just by being in the Bahamas, but appetites were on the increase. Frank made regular trips to his fruit sacks, which, he said in a desperate voice, would be empty before morning.
We had fared reasonably well on the big boat, but those out all day with Curtis in the Whaler came back unrewarded. The closest they had come to fish was when they pulled up their chairs to hoist bowls of conch chowder at Frazer's Hog Cay. They were also soaked to their adventurous skins and unnerved by the pummeling they had taken, as Curtis, valiant in effort, had plowed from island to island, flat to flat, in the pursuit of the elusive bonefish. He said he thought he had spotted a few muds where fish were feeding and almost fell out of the boat trying to get to them, but the water was too rough to be certain.
The next morning we trolled half the triangle to the Joulters, chasing for a mile or so a huge whale that had sounded in our path and was frolicking just ahead of us. When we were near enough to the reefs Frank and I left the Queen B to try the flats with Curtis. The wind was shifting around to the north—not a good sign. Bill was not as confident as before. He talked of past triumphs, of victories in bonefish tournaments in Florida. In his haste to get us to the flats he misread the clarity of the water and twice ran full speed onto sandbars—shlumph!—sending Frank and me sprawling into the bow.
The wind, now stronger, dipped into our collars, chilling us as the afternoon wore on unproductively. A norther was coming up for sure. Bill was glum, but he diligently poled us over the abandoned flats. All was silence, except for the swish-swishing of his hands on the long pole. The tide was going out. Suddenly there was before us a small school of bonefish, but they spooked at my clumsy cast and were gone in an instant. There were no other sightings. We got out and walked along the stark-white sand off one of the cays, for no reason except to walk. (I will always have this picture of Bill Curtis: pants legs up to his knees, that plantation overseer's hat tilted dangerously to one side, his large, callused hands digging into the sand for crabs.)
At dusk we rejoined the Queen B at anchor off Morgan's Bluff on the northern coast of Andros, 37 miles east of Nassau. It was this shelter that the pirate Henry Morgan was supposed to have used to count his caches, but we were enjoying no such pleasures. What was wrong? Frank suggested that we line up and count toes, and the person with three on each foot should be thrown overboard. Exhausted from the pounding of the Whaler, I fell into an uncomfortable sleep and dreamed of gripping the trolling rod and reeling so hard that I was actually pulling the boat toward the fish. Jimmy O'Neill was at my side, Bill Curtis' overseer's hat pulled down over his ears, shouting encouragement—"It's a big one! A record marlin!"—until he dissolved and I was found to be hooked to the Dade County courthouse, and we were aground on Flagler Street in downtown Miami. It was an unmanageable dream, one I might have missed had I known that tomorrow we would at last have Rudy Knowles on our side.
Curtis had made the arrangements. Granville Knowles (whom Curtis had known from a previous trip to Andros) or his son Rudy would take us to the west side—the unknown side—of Andros for duck and, if time allowed, wild boar. In the morning four of us made the 20-minute run around Money Point to Lowe Sound. The good times that have come to most of the Bahamas have not come to Lowe Sound, but a hurricane did come last fall and there are still evidences of its lingering fury: busted frame houses, irreparable boats flipped up on the shore, uprooted sea-grape and coconut trees.
Granville met us at the dock, which was coming apart, and there were others smiling their greetings, including a very large, laughing woman Granville identified as his wife. "A big woman the best kind," he said. "They do much work." Granville is a buoyant gray-haired man of modest dimensions, a barefoot pillar of the community second only to the mayor—who also has fishing boats and sells lumber—in the social order. Granville took us up to his shop, a single-room shed, which had a faded sign, "C. Knowles and Son, 1912," hanging over the door. "My father have the guide business," he said, "and his father before him."
The son, Rudy, came out of the shed's darkness. He was a head and a half taller than his father and, though he was skinny everywhere else, his shoulders were astonishingly broad. He was wearing a brownish-green, two-piece rubber foul-weather suit and no shoes, and seemed at first to be aloof to our presence. Then someone said something that made him laugh, and he revealed a large expanse of gum between his front teeth. His laugh was high like a schoolboy's, spontaneous and relaxed.
It was agreed that we would take two boats—Rudy also had a Whaler, and Frank and I would ride with him. Frank suggested we first make a pilgrimage to the local grocery store for fruit. The grocery was also a single room, 10 by 10 or so, unlighted except through the open door, with a huge picture of John F. Kennedy on one wall and an advertisement for Colt 45 beer. The ad included a picture of Gomeo Brennan, the welterweight boxer from Bimini. Gomeo, by inference, trains on beer. The nearest thing to oranges and apples Frank could acquire, however, was 10 Coca-Colas and a jar of strawberry jam.
We joined Rudy in the boat, and I asked him if he were Granville's favorite son. He said he was the oldest son, age 31, and was unmarried. "I do not care to be married," he said.
"That's too bad, because you will miss the joys of having children," I said solicitously.
"Oh, I have seven children," he said. "They live here with me in my new house. I have three women. Two women here, one in Nassau. The one I have now—she not a woman, she just a girl of 25—she have four of my children. She big with child again."
It was two and a half hours before we reached the creek Rudy had chosen, far down on the west side of Andros opposite The Mud. On maps this inlet is called Blue Creek and appears to peter out after a mile or so. Its narrow entrance, scarcely three yards wide, is marked by tree limbs stuck in the banks. Rudy turned in practically at full throttle—brushing close to the coral shelves that serve as a natural trough—and led the way into the interior of Andros. Abruptly the creek became shallow, and Rudy cut the engine and began to pole the boat. He did it effortlessly, with a regularity of stroke that accounted for the size of his shoulders. Then the creek opened into a small lake, then a larger one, and they seemed to go on endlessly, though no hydrographic survey I have seen indicates this. I asked Rudy if the wild boar were up here, too.
"Yes, but much further that way," he said, gesturing.
Had he ever seen them?
"Yes, many of them. They big, big. Two, three hundred pound, some of them. My daddy had a farm up there and had to put the fence up to keep them out. They very strong and fast, and they eat you if they get hold of you. It take a good shot to burn a hole through them."
How did they get here?
"Oh, they broke away from ranches at Lowe Sound and other settlements many years ago. Then they go to pigging and pigging until they get to be hundreds and thousands, hundreds and thousands." He said we would not have time to go up where they were today because the return trip to Lowe Sound would take longer and be much rougher into the wind. "I don't like to hunt the wild pigs," he said. "I rather my daddy go."
Suddenly he cut the engine and, taking up the oar, began to pole again, though the water was deeper.
"They up there, the ducks," Rudy said calmly, pointing far ahead to an island of mangroves. "They on the water. They swimming the other way. We need to put the deecons out up there by the big mangrove, and they'll come right to them."
"Deecons? Oh, the decoys," said Bill Curtis in the other Whaler. "I left them on the big boat."
Rudy was amazed. No, not amazed. Chagrined. How could we be so naive as to forget the bait? "It's the worstest thing you could have done," he said, "the worstest thing."
"From a conservationist's point of view it is not so bad," said Frank. "This is becoming a very successful trip from a conservationist's point of view."
Rudy grumbled about the deecons for a while, but he was the only one who could see the ducks in the water anyway, so it did not seem to matter. He kept poling. Then, slowly, little black dots began to materialize on the water ahead—a great black cluster of teal bobbing along on the water. When they finally became aware of us and took flight we got one shot apiece, and a single duck fell. Barefoot, Rudy clambered among the mangroves to fetch it. There were two larger birds in the trees that looked like brown cranes, and Rudy yelled for us to shoot them, too, and when he saw a white heron standing motionless in the mangroves he wanted us to shoot that, too. Frank, rebelling, said no compassionate man could do such a thing. What on earth was in Rudy's mind?
"To eat it," Rudy said. "They very good eating." He laughed. "But that's all right. If you don't shoot it I come back later and shoot it myself."
"You eat everything that flies, eh, Rudy?" Frank asked.
"The best is the fillymingos. They up further."
"Fillymingos? You eat flamingos? In the States you shoot one of them and you'd get fined a hundred bucks."
Rudy laughed again. "Oh, yes, yes, you get fined here, too. But they the best to eat. The sweetest meat."
Soon the sky was alive with swarms of teal and, despite having no decoys, we were able to get close enough to kill five more. Before they were down Rudy was out of the boat, splashing in mud and through mangroves, like a great, joyful Labrador retriever. I suspect that the soles of his feet are water-repellent and heat-resistant. He invariably went straight to the stricken birds, and with a violent whirling twist wrung their necks.
"It would be easier if we had the deecons," he said.
During the hours we spent in this duck hunter's paradise we heard no other shots and saw no signs of other hunters. The only other people we saw were farmers in small native sailboats heading up to where Rudy said his father used to farm.
We had come 38 miles from Lowe Sound to Rudy's creek and it was an easy run, but the trip back, plugging into the wind, was as rough as Rudy had predicted. When the pounding became excessive Frank grabbed the bowline and stood spread-eagle in Bill's Whaler, riding it as if it were a chariot. I followed suit. The reward was a drenching from waves soaring over the bow, but in standing up we transferred the strain from our kidneys to our legs, making the ride more fun and infinitely more endurable. Until Bill's Whaler ran out of gas.
We were still on the west side of Andros with a long way to go. It would be dark soon. The sun was an apricot so near to dipping into the sea that you could stare right into it. Rudy checked and found that he, too, was low on gas. He said with extra weight he could not make it more than a mile down the east side. Nevertheless, he insisted everyone transfer to his boat and had Bill anchor the other.
"What will we do when you run out of gas?" Bill asked.
"I pole us in," said Rudy, simple as that.
And he did, too, with some help from us he did not really need. We could barely see the lights at Lowe Sound when the gas finally ran out. It took three more hours to pole in. The tide was out, and we frequently scraped bottom, stirring up sparkles of phosphorus. It was a chilly, moonless night, dark as the inside of a trunk, except for the stars and those twinkling disturbances under the waves. For Frank and me it was especially cold because we had saturated ourselves playing rodeo.
Rudy's daddy was concerned about us. He had built a huge fire on the beach and, with the impressive Mrs. Knowles looming beside him, was feeding it palm fronds when we poled into the dock. In minutes Rudy had filled the tank and was speeding us around Money Point to the Queen B, anchored at Morgan's Bluff. We were three hours past rendezvous and the others were relieved to see that we had not been taken by the chickcharneys. After some drinks, a dinner of dolphin and french fries and a change to dry clothes (in that inverted order, because Frank was starved), Captain O'Neill suggested we have a look at the strange fish in the well. We opened the hatch and there, its glittering black body curled up like a sleeping child, was a seven-foot blue martin. One of the others had hooked it at 5 o'clock that afternoon off the Joulters. O'Neill said they also had hooked another, larger one—"probably half again as big"—and fought it for 20 minutes before it threw the hook. They had had other action, too: a pair of 40-pound dolphins, a nice wahoo and some big barracuda, which were taken on light spinning tackle over a reef. The safari had definitely taken a turn for the good.
The next morning, to our grateful surprise, Rudy and Granville arrived with both Whalers. They had set out before daybreak and made the long haul around Andros, to retrieve Bill's abandoned boat. "And now," said Granville, "we ready to take you to the bonefish." Fifty yards from the Queen B one of the boats ran out of gas again, and we had to wait an hour for Rudy to fetch us more from Lowe Sound. It took an hour because he also stopped to catch a pail of soldier crabs for bait. Bill, a purist, said he would stick to his jigs. He also made a point of loading the decoys on one of the boats in case we eventually decided on a little more duck hunting, which, of course, we eventually did not.
The day was warm. And the water was so calm we seemed to be gliding above it instead of on it. The flats on the lee side of the Joulters encompass thousands of acres of white water no more than a couple of feet deep. The tide was going out. We would not have much time. We were barely on the flats when Granville began pointing ahead. "There! There!" he called from the other boat.
Rudy, disdainful, ignored him.
"Only a dozen or so," he said.
"A dozen! Listen, I spent a whole day looking at none," I said. "Let's go after the dozen."
"Oh, don't worry. You gonna see more," said Rudy. He was out of the boat now, pulling it along, watching for ripples. When bonefish feed they plunge their noses in the sand for small crabs and sea worms, and their tails flutter on the surface. When our eyes became accustomed we could see them, too, and the direction in which they were feeding—many schools, some of them 50 yards wide. They were all around us. And the more remarkable—we were the only boat on the flats. "What did I tell you—what'd-I-tellya!" Bill shouted.
Rudy prides himself in beating his father at bonefishing (he concedes Granville's mastery at boar hunting), and in the two hours we were on the flats I had nine strikes and boated seven fish, four to six pounds. The procedure was to cast ahead of the feeding fish, allowing the crab meat to settle on the bottom, and then back off. When one struck, Rudy had what he said was a simple but foolproof formula: "Jerk your rod three times. If it still on, you got him." Because the bonefish are the fighters they are, there is considerable crane work to be done, too, but Rudy's Law proved accurate enough. Every now and then a barracuda invaded the flats to grab one of the bonefish, but these forays disturbed traffic only momentarily. In the other boat Bill and Granville were engaged in rather noisy polemics on Bill's use of the jig—"We come out here to catch fish, not to scare them," Granville was saying—but our triumphs continued regularly before the outgoing tide forced us off the flats.
We ate lunch there in the boats at the edge of the channel. Later we explored the reefs for tarpon, which happened to be somewhere else for the day, and then Granville chased and netted a green turtle that had surfaced between the boats. The water was alive with activity. Going down the channel we passed over a huge pack of bluefin sharks, a hundred or more, some of them six feet long.
On the way back to Lowe Sound, Rudy chased a manta ray, a devilfish that was bigger than the top of a car, and, in a moment of sport, powered across the lines of two settlement women fishing alone in a dinghy. They stood up in the little boat shaking their fists at him. He giggled happily. One of them, he said, was the mother of one of his children. I suggested that stunts like that could get him in bad with the chickcharneys, but he said he did not worry because he keeps on their good side.
"Have you ever seen them at work?"
"Oh, yes, many times. There was once a man in our settlement who did not believe in them. He said we show him a nest and he'll laugh right in it. We took two cars and we took him to a nest and he got up there where it was and laughed into the nest. The moment he did that, all eight tires on the two cars went flat." He clapped his hands together to emphasize the action.
Time did not allow us to go back to the other side of Andros for the wild boars, and I had the impression it was just as well, because in my mind I could see Rudy dropping me off on the shore where the herds were and leaving me there to fend for myself. His respect for the pigs is too great to suit me. Some other time, when Granville is with us, we will go again, for if Granville and Rudy Knowles say the pigs are there then they are there.
We had, nevertheless, proved that the safari Bill Curtis dreamed up months before made for entertainment of a high order. We had caught marlin and dolphin, barracuda, snapper and wahoo, jacks, yellowtail and a green turtle. And we had seen the teeming bonefish flats (just as Curtis had described them) and squadrons of ducks, and had explored a strange and beautiful land. And we had discovered Rudy Knowles.
Boats for sport-fishing in the Bahamas can be chartered in Miami (Key Biscayne or Pier 5) or out of Nassau. A typical charter will sleep four to six, plus a crew of two. Prices are largely a matter of negotiation. They start at $100 and go to $150 a day. Fuel, dockage, bait, food and ice run to another $50 a day. Big bluefin tuna appear off Bimini and Cat Cay in late May and early June. White marlin and sailfish are most common from February to April; blue-marlin fishing is best from June through August. The Nassau Charter Boat Association operates year round out of Nassau. Boats go out for a week or longer to Abaco, Andros, the Berry Islands, Eleuthera and the Exumas. They cost from $600 to $1,000 a week with the usual extras. Big-game tackle is provided, but fishermen should bring their own light spinning tackle and fly rods for the flats, and their own guns if they wish to shoot. Native guides for bonefishing and duck hunting cost $20 a day, $40 with boat. The closed season on quail or duck is April 1 to September 1, and many birds are permanently protected. Anyone convicted of infringements is liable to the confiscation of all his goods (including his yacht).