Bill Webster could have been up in Ontario right now, waiting for the ice to melt so he could get back to work trapping minnows and crabs for bait.

"You can go crazy up there, eh?" he asked, lifting his brows.

Three years ago Webster, his father Jim and his bait business partner Barry Dartnall decided to give commercial wintertime fishing in Florida a try. They did, it worked, and they are still at it.

Which is no big deal, except for one thing. They don't have a boat.

In fact, they don't even have a place to stay.

The Websters and Dartnall are keeping house in the back of Bill's truck, parked in Mallory Square in downtown Key West. It would be close quarters but for the fact that they are practically never there. They are always out fishing for fun and profit on other people's boats.

The Canadians are in the forefront of a tiny but growing Florida phenomenon -- professional party boat fishermen.

They make a living by going fishing on two Key West headboats -- the Yankee Captains and the Viking Starship.

Last weekend, they were aboard the Starship, which runs a two-day, two-night nonstop hard fishing excursion to the Dry Tortugas every week.

The boat left the dock at 11 p.m. Friday and the three already had their rods posted along the stern quarter, which is action central aboard a headboat.

They slept until 2:30 a.m. when the fast boat arrived at the fishing ground.

Then they started hauling up groupers, porgies and snappers. They fished past dawn and through Saturday morning, then all Saturday afternoon, all Saturday night and all Sunday morning. When the whistle tooted "lines up" for the last time at 2 p.m. Sunday they started counting fish.

They had 400 pounds.

They knew when they reached the dock at Key West the buyer for a fish wholesaler in the Keys would be there with his little pickup and they could sell the fish for $1.10 a pound. They had paid $93 apiece for the two-day trip, so they were up about $160 for starters. It was not their best weekend by a long shot.

But on every headboat there is a pool for the biggest fish, too, and Bill Webster had been on his toes when a 40-pound cobia cruised close enough to the surface to cast to late at night. He dangled a piece of cut bait in front of the big fish, the fish took, the mate was on hand to gaff it before it ever ran and Webster was another $180 richer.

That's enough to make it through a week in a truck with a few dollars to spare. But the Canadians won't stop.

On Tuesday they are aboard the Yankee Captains for a day trip. They will finish about 6 p.m., then dash over to the Viking Starship for its midweek 24-hour run to the Tortugas. On Thursday, they make the Tortugas trip with the Yankee Captains, then on Friday they are back aboard the Starship.

It's wild, and they're the wildest, but they aren't the only ones playing this game.

The pickup truck makes it all viable, guaranteeing the $1.10 a pound price week in and week out.

Paul Farnham, a Starship mate who has worked on headboats up and down the East coast, said when he saw the truck waiting at the end of the first trip, "It blew me away." He'd never seen anything like it.

Nor had Captain Paul Forsberg, who brought the Starship down for the first time this winter from home port on Long Island.

"If I had a truck waiting in Montauk," he said, "I'd have to fight the customers off with a gaff hook."

The reason he doesn't, and won't, Forsberg said, is that fish sales in the northeast are about sewed up by the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. "They won't guarantee a price for anything, and no one can afford to go out on a limb as a buyer," he said.

Bill Webster insists he isn't really making money. "We get our expenses back, eh?" he said, "and we have a good time. What else is there to do? They change the show once a month in town and we go see the new one when they do. Other than that we'd sooner be fishing."

Others tried the same thing last weekend with less success.

Staten Island fireman Bob Kempton and his friend Richard Bungarz, who fishes commercially in New York waters, came down four weeks ago and find they can't afford to go home.

"We've been out four weekends," Kempton said. "We made expenses from the fish we caught and we hit the pool twice. Who wants to go back to work?"

Retired cattle dealers Ted McMillan and Johnny Kronuck go out twice a week. One weekend they made $611. Last weekend was their worst, when they could barely cover expenses.

To McMillan, that's not all bad. "I'm not in it for the money, he said. "Sometimes when they're catching fish I'll come in here and sit down. It doesn't bother me. I just like to have a good time and see people be happy."

And during the first week of February, there are worse places to be than on the deck on a fishing boat off the Dry Tortugas, where the southeast wind carries warm salt air and the sun bakes the furrows from the brow.