When about four miles out in the gulf, the fish suddenly alters his course to due north, and finally enters Boca Grande Pass. Here are many more fishers who greet the apparition with jeers and shouts; most beat a hasty retreat, but some of the keener succeed in making fast to the stern of the harpooner's boat, for the pace is now much reduced. Through Boca Grande the course is changed direct for Captiva, but on the east side of the island which had lately been passed on the west; hence they are making a complete circuit of an island some six miles in length, and alas ! the steamer which has already put to sea to hunt for them is being hunted itself. Back they go into Captiva Pass through which a strong tide is now running, and out once more into the gulf. The strain of four boats, combined with the rough handling of the somewhat exhausted har-pooner, has had its effect upon the great fish, whose efforts at escape become greatly reduced, until finally he is lifted sufficiently to enable the harpooner to place a well-directed Winchester bullet in the place where his brain should be. The fish is now completely hors de combat, so too are the boats, for with their united efforts they cannot even move this mass of flesh, which is still drifting with them out to sea. Anxiously they search for the steamer, but she has evidently given up the hunt and daylight is failing. Two of the boats which had hitched on have already forsaken them, for the Gulf with its treacherous storms is no place wherein to pass the night in a 14-feet open boat.
Reluctantly the harpooner decides to cut adrift, for unaided by a steamer these rays cannot be landed. Down sinks the great water-bird with a severed line, to provide an ample meal for ever-prowling sharks, and the three remaining boats work wearily homewards against a heavy tide. Such sport as here described may be experienced every day at this time of year, but giant ray are scarce in these passes although plentiful close by.
On days when for any reason tarpon fishing is abandoned, much sport with a fly rod may be en-j oyed either from boat or shore; the latter is preferable, for casting from a small boat on the sea is not an unqualified success, although some of the fly-taking fish, such as the mackerel and its beautiful cousin the jackfish, are seldom reached from land. From the shore, however, slim, silvery ladyfish can be caught in numbers; they are strong fighters, nimble, and active, equalling any fish in their jumping proclivities, and well worthy of the fly-fisher's attention. So, too, are the so-called trout, handsome, spotted fish, weighing eight or more pounds, and hard fighters on fair tackle ; but unfortunately there is in Florida too much pole fishing with wire casts for true sport with these game fish. Even when not on fishing bent, to wander along the shell bestrewn shores of the Florida Islands is no dull occupation. After a storm, many queer, hitherto unknown fish and other objects of interest will appeal to the lover of Nature as they lie cast dead or dying on the beach; curious spotted eels, or serpents as they are called, are frequent, with odd crawling creatures with fins, which yet cannot swim, and little meddlesome ghost-crabs darting wildly hither and thither on the tips of their hind toes, the rest of their uncanny white legs held high aloft, and long movable eyes ogling round corners.
In May the turtles frequent these sandy beaches at night to lay their eggs, which the little coons come and eat. The curious horse-shoe crabs pass their honeymoons half in and half out of the sea where it meets the shore, and the little coons come and eat them too. Portions of the coast are inhabited by countless millions of fiddler crabs, which spend most of their time in the hot sun away from water; the whole shore seethes with a rustling sound as they scuttle away on being disturbed. Nothing on land appears to care for the taste of these dry-looking, gaudy-shelled little scavengers; but sheepsheads and different fish take them better than any other bait. These islands, of which there are many hundreds, although unprepossessing from without, are of great beauty and interest in their interiors. There is usually some sort of trail to be found along which one may wander among high palms, cacti, ferns, and large trees festooned with aerial plants.
Few birds are met with except in the regular rookeries or breeding-places, and the ordinary signs of life are restricted to gopher and tortoise holes and the occasional wide track through the sand of a six-foot rattlesnake. Now and then a giant woodpecker suddenly leaves a tree trunk, and the call of the " Whip-poor-Will" resounds along the shore. All else is silent, save when a little blue heron, disturbed from some grassy swamp, flaps heavily seawards. These islands would prove charming places wherein to lazy away a few hours were it not for the prickly pears and mosquitoes.
Long before the existence of the few remaining Indians a tribe inhabited these regions. Their weapons were constructed of huge fossil sharks' teeth, seven inches in length, and of rudely fashioned stones, which can still be dug out of the burial mounds of ancient human bones. The skulls of the first residents are abnormally thick, and their bones large. Such places can be examined on days which are too stormy for fishing; thus never a weary moment need trouble the sportsman in Florida.
To some, harpooning is an attractive sport wherein there is much to learn, and which admits of great variety from saw-fish to green turtles.
Let us follow an adept in the art as he starts out for a day with his favourite weapon. From the moment of entering the boat, the harpooner takes up a standing position in the bow, always looking into the deep water or out ahead; his guide rows as though his head were fixed on the wrong way, for it is ever turned to the front, and with marvellous precision he locates a fish which is sometimes unseen by the man who stands. Presently the harpooner cries, "To the left, pull hard." Down shoots the harpoon, out flies the line, and he is fast in a seven-foot whip ray. Away darts the ray, far more powerful for its size than its relation, the giant ray; for a few moments it fairly taxes the man's strength, but finally it is overcome and hauled up on to an oyster-bar, where its remarkable, slim, seven-foot tail, no thicker than a pencil, is hacked off as a trophy; next, the curious grinding stones which serve as teeth are extracted from its jaws, and a splendid piece of beautiful black skin, spotted with white rings, is also retained for future use. These fish may be seen in the distance jumping like great kites yards into the air, as they throw off the too persistent suckers which cling to them. While the whip ray is being operated upon, several sharks attracted by the blood have been swimming backwards and forwards, their presence marked by the dorsal fin above water.