If the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry, the first to go are fishing plans.

It was supposed to be a weekend of great sport, cobia fishing in the shipwrecks of the Gulf of Mexico and bonefishing on the flats of the Florida Keys.

Buy wind and weather had something else in mind, and when Billy and Dom had watched cold descend in 35-knot gusts from the north for a day and a half, they figured they'd seen enough.

They went home, leaving their would-be partner with a day to kill and nobody to talk to.

Would-Be moped around awhile and finally found himself drawn, as he knew he would be, to the boat docks. The charter skippers were bundled against the cold, looking forlorn.

"Forty-one degrees this morning," said one. "That's the coldest it's ever been in Key West. You could look it up."

They made some halfhearted pitches to get Would-Be to go trolling in the Gulf Stream in pursuit of king mackerel, but when he said no, they looked relieved.

All except Capt. John Battillo on Capt. Tony's Grayhound IV.

"What are you going after today?" Would-Be asked Capt. John.

"Snapper, grouper, grunt, lane snapper, cobia, kingfish, Spanish mackerel, cerro mackerel, dolphin, wahoo, white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish, barracuda, tuna, jewfish, eels, sharks, bluefish, redfish, sheepshead, permit and bonito.

"We're going after all of them. That doesn't mean we'll catch 'em but that's what we're doing. Going after them."

Such refreshing honesty intrigued Would-Be, who pressed the point.

"Cobia, huh?" he asked. "Have you caught any of them lately?"

Battillo, who is about 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, seemed miffed that anyone would doubt it. "Of course," he sniffed, and called to his mate.

"Hey J.C., who was it caught that cobia the other day? Was it Lost-in-Space or Hippie Eddie?"

"Lost-in-Space, I think," said J.C. "Twenty-eight pounder."

Welcome to the world of headboats, where pretensions are dropped and folks get down to the real business at hand -- getting dirty and smelly and going fishing.

Serious sport fishermen turn up their noses at headboats but serious sport fishermen sometimes spend days milling around at the dock, waiting for things to be just right. If there are 15 people fool enough to go with him, Capt. John goes out. Every day.

J.C. greeted one of the first arrivals for the 11 a.m. trip. "Back again, huh?" he asked a nice-looking chap boarding with a woman and another young man.

The chap turned out to be James Traylen of Portsmouth, England, who confessed to having fancied himself a fisherman all his life, even though he had never caught a fish.

"It just seems a great way to live, don't you think?" he asked.

And the day before, with the wind howling at a cold 35, he had broken into the promised land with Capt. John.

"It was quite unbelievable," said Traylen. "We stopped, I dropped my line overboard and caught a fish. Just like that. Everybody aboard was doing it. I caught eight fish and I don't even know what I'm doing."

"We had them for tea," said his wife, Cindy. "They were lovely."

The Grayhound IV turned out to be the nation's first international headboat, with a group rattling away and later singing songs in French (they were from Montreal), the usual ration of Cuban refugees and an Oriental cook who spent most of her time organizing a poker game in the forward cabin.

It was a bright, cool, windy day when the boat left, right on time, one of only two boats from the Key West fleet to brave the waters that day.

Halfway out of the channel Capt. John pulled back on the throttles and J.C. hurried to the bow with his gaff and began lunging at the water. On the third lunge he haused up a fish, hand-over-hand. It was a 12-pound mutton snapper, the biggest catch of the day.

"It's so cold they can't swim," he said. "They just float to the top and lay there. We might get some more this way." He didn't.

Battillo finally halted the boat over 15 feet of water and everyone fished but nothing bit. He moved and the same thing happened again.

He moved a third time and anchored in the gray-green, warm water just off the Gulf Stream. Oddly, the chop wasn't too rough despite the stiff breeze.

Traylen was utterly unperturbed by the bad luck of the boat after his startlingly successful effort the day before. He'd waited 20 years for his first fish, he could wait a few hours for some more.

Then things started happening. Battillo helped a woman in the stern bring in a grunt. A small grouper came over the side in the bow. The poker players began to look up from their game, considering breaking up to go fishing. However, reason prevailed and they stuck with the cards.

Even Would-Be managed to boat a fish, a one-pound snapper. Cindy Traylen, standing next to him, grew disconsolate.

"Haven't you even had a bite?" asked Would-Be.

"'ow should I know? I've never caught a bloody fish, 'ave I?" she asked back.

"Hey!" her husband howled from the bow. He was battling a great fish that bent his rod double. It was the catch of the day on rod and reel, a six-pound grouper.

If somebody ever writes a book about smiling, they should have on the cover a photo of James Traylen's grin at that moment.

Not bad for a $12 headboat ride.