It was just another day in the longest fishing season of them all.

Calvin Albury, tall and lanky, his skin baked brown by a lifetime under the sun, tipped up his white cowboy hat and reflected on half a century in pursuit of bonefish.

In 1929, at age 15, Albury first shouldered a long pole and pushed a skiff across the sandy flats around the Florida Keys, while a paying customer scanned the water for bones.He's been at it ever since.

It's high and demanding sport, sport that has shattered the nerves of lesser men than Albury.

It hasn't been without rewards.

Albury may have been as close as anyone, for example, to one of the men who had held the reins on a bucking nation.

From 1948 to 1963 he was former president Herbert Hoover's personal bonefish guide. In 1961 the man who had led the nation when it was hit by its worst economic crisis fished with Albury for 41 consecutive days.

"He came down here and I think his friends were needing him about only being able to fish so many days. He showed 'em he could still do it at 86 years old."

Bonefish. In the Keys they fish them the year around, with a brief break in the springtime when giant tarpon invade the flats. What's so appealing about this silvery denizen of shallow water?

It's certainly not the taste.

"They taste like a musty closet smell," said Albury. "There's millions of damn bones. I don't want any part of them."

It's not the fast action, either.

"We figure that any time you take a party out and get one bonefish in the boat, you've got nothing to hang your head about," said the dean of the flats guides.

It's the fight that makes bonefish so appealing.

"They fight better, pound for pound, than any fish in salt water," said Albury.

And the challenge. Bonefish are as skittish as a covey of quail. They feed on a moving tide in as little as a foot of gin-clear water. As the guide poles the boat across the flats the angler must spot a school of wary bones. Even a shallow will spook a feeding bonefish.

The bait, lure or fly must be cast to a spot precisely ahead of the fish, far enough away that it won't send the school scurrying in a sundial of flight, close enough that the fish will find the bait.

When the bone picks up the bait, the angler keeps both feet in the boat and waits for the fish to streak off in a run of incredible speed and force.

There's no other fish quite like it.

Albury knows. He was there when they wrote the book on bonefishing.

According to him, the sport started in the Keys in 1909 when his late father, Edmund, and another guide on Matecumbe Key devised a diversion when the offshore water was too rough for sportsfisherman to brave.

"Everybody laughed," said Albury, "but they rigged up two skiffs and we've been doing it ever since."

Bonefishmen have flocked to the Keys to partake in the great challenge. The sport lures some of the most diligent and expert anglers in the world. Odd, then, that the biggest bonefish in Albury's long career was caught by a man who had never held a rod before.

"There was a big General Motors meeting here (at the Ocean Reef Club)," he said. "This guy was GM's German president in charge of those Opel cars. He was 64 1/2 years old and ready for retirement. He'd come into the meetings with a bucket of beer in his hand. They just wanted to get rid of him for the day, so they sent him fishing with me.

"He caught three bonefish, the biggest one 14 pounds 15 1/2 ounces. He came back in and said, 'What's so hard about bonefishing?'"

Hoover had his foibles, too not the least of which was his 41-day marathon adventure.

Albury's funniest experience with the ex-president came on a day when the young flyboys from Homestead Air Base were testing their new jets.

As the guide was poling up on a pod of fish one of the airmen saw the boat below and decided to have some fun.

He buzzed the bonefishermen, so close that even today Albury swears he could have hit the underbelly of the plane with his push-pole.

"I never knew Mr. Hoover had so many partial plates. There was false teeth scattered all over the bottom of the boat like kernels of corn.

"The old man was so upset he quit fishing and we went in. He got on the phone and gave those boys at Homestead what-for."

Albury keeps his humor, which is a rare trait indeed for a bonefish guide. These men work so hard for a chance at a fish and carry so many parties that foul up an opportunity when it's presented that bonefish guides have a deserved reputation as the nastiest fishing pros in the world.

One of his regular parties, a married couple, finally quit last year after fishing with him for 30 years. "They told me it was their last time," said Albury. "He was 93 years old and she was 96.

"I've chased bonefish all my life and I'll keep chasing them until I can't do it anymore. Then I'll quit."

Maybe Albury will last that long. If he does, he'll likely go out with a push-pole in his hand.