The "flats" referred to are the areas of shallow water, often no more than two feet deep and sometimes only a few inches, found around the coasts of southern Florida, the Bahamas islands, Cuba, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Christmas Island, the Yucatan, Mexico, and Belize. In fact, almost any coastal shallows between latitudes 30N and 30S. Of these locations, Florida is probably easiest to get to, and the bonefish are of good average size, but the Keys are heavily fished, as is Biscayne Bay, near Miami, and the fish are very wary. Some of the best bonefishing in the world is to be had in the saltwater flats around Andros Island in the Bahamas. I know, because I have sampled it. But after a trip to Turneffe Flats, off the coast of Belize, I can tell you that there you have the best place for your initial bonefishing foray. My ten-day bonefishing trip resulted in 140 fish between two and eight pounds. I lost some, scared more than I should have, but had great fun.

I flew from Heathrow to Miami then from Miami to Belize City. After an overnight stay at the Ramada Reef Hotel, a seventy-minute boat trip took me to Turneffe Flats fishing lodge.

Turneffe Flats is well organised, and offers good food, air-conditioned comfortable "bed-sit" rooms (double occupancy) in wooden chalets, and a comfortable communal lounge plus well-stocked bar. Maximum number of guests is twelve. A good selection of suitable flies are for sale, including patterns for the other two target species - permit and tarpon. Overhead fans also keep you comfortable in the dining area.

Around the island are several square miles of fishable flats, fished either from boats or by wading. The lodge has a fleet of six eighteen-foot shallow-draught "Dolphin" skiffs, specially designed for fishing for bonefish, each with a powerful outboard. In charge of each boat is a guide, whose expertise is absolutely essential to the success of your bonefishing trip. Here's a typical example of the sort of exciting bonefishing that Turneffe Flats can provide:

One morning, "Pops", one of the guides, took me to one of his favourite spots, a mangrove shoreline where the bottom was covered with turtlegrass. As we approached the spot, he slowed the motor to a whisper, then cut it completely and raised the outboard. Sliding the 20-foot push-pole from its clips on the gunwale, "Pops" climbed on to the poling platform and started to pole the boat slowly and quietly along the shoreline. I mounted the front platform and quickly made the preliminary cast, retrieving line into the bottom of the boat. In my left hand I held the fly, a chenille-bodied bead-eyed shrimp pattern with pale ginger hair tail, my own design, dressed on a size 8 Partridge "Sea Prince" hook. About five yards of line trailed outside the rod tip.

Facing forward (the "12 o'clock" position) I scanned a wide angle, trying hard to see a fish. The breeze gave a surface ripple, distorting my view of the bottom. About ten yards away, a darkish shape moved quickly across. I pointed the rod at it and turned to look at the guide enquiringly. "Boxfish", said "Pops" quietly. My heart-beat returned to almost normal and I resumed the scan.
It was only a few seconds later when "Pops" interrupted "O.K., Tom, big bonefish at 11.30, thirty feet, in that little open patch". At first I saw nothing. Whilst wondering just how far "thirty feet" was (why the Hell don't they talk in yards?) I automatically rolled the line out, let go of the fly, and made one false-cast. "More to your left"', from "Pops". I altered direction, and finally saw the fish three rod-lengths away - three dark salmon-sized shapes moving very slowly over a sandy bottom, and now at about 10 o'clock to the bow. One more false-cast, and the line was in the air in front of the leading fish.

"Drop it". The fly landed gently, two feet in front of the fish. "Wait" - this to let the fly sink. Rod tip down to the surface, I remembered. "Strip. Strip. Not too fast!". The fish left the others and followed the fly. "Stop"'. The fish kept coming. "Strip' Long strip' Stop"'. I saw the fish's head tilt downwards, only fifteen feet away. "Set it"'. I gave a long hard pull on the line and felt a solid resistance. With the rod tip sti11 pointing at the fish, I glanced down to make sure I wasn't treading on any retrieved line, and felt the line burn my finger as it shot out at an amazing speed. Within seconds, line was pulled off the screaming reel, and I raised the rod high. The whole fly line disappeared through the rod rings, followed by 100 yards of white backing, and still the fish showed no sign of slowing. I had 100 yards of grey backing knotted to the white, and a lot of this sped through the rod rings before the bonefish finally stopped. About 180 yards, that first run. And thankfully along the mangroves and not into them.

Reeling in frantically (never handline a big bonefish if you want to keep all your fingers), I managed to regain about 100 yards of backing, when down went the rod tip and the fish was off again. Almost all the retrieved line screamed off the reel I before the fish stopped.

Again, frantic reeling-in, and this time I nearly got the fly line to the rod tip before the fish set off on a third run of about 100 yards. On each of these runs the bonefish was completely unstoppable. Several more runs, each slightly shorter, and the fish was twenty yards from the boat, which "Pops" had moved away from the mangroves. Surely it was tiring? Putting on some pressure, I pulled the rod over to give side strain, but Mr. Bonefish was far from ready to give in, and out went another ten yards. It was another minute before I was able to kneel down and grab the leader. Laying the rod down on the deck, I grabbed the fish behind the pectoral fins and lifted it from the water.

Eight pounds of solid muscle, and the fly well in the scissors. Out with the forceps, and the fly was quickly removed. A couple of seconds for a photograph, and I returned the fish to the water. After about half a minute, the bonefish slowly swam away. I hooked the fly in the butt ring, wound up the line, and sank into one of the seats. What a fight! What a fish! "Pops" was already back on his poling platform, "Quick, Tom, Bonefish, sixty feet, 12 o'clock, big shoal"'. I was up on the bow in a flash, tearing line off the reel. Tails flashing in the sun identified the position of the fish, and even my inexperienced eye could see that there were about thirty bonefish feeding, including one which was a peculiar yellowish colour. "That's a golden bone" said "Pops", "we have some here". I tried to curb my excitement and concentrate on making a good cast. With a deft push of the pole, "Pops" turned the boat so that my back-cast wouldn't snag on the pole or get him in the ear. The fish fed steadily.

"Drop it", from "Pops". The fly landed well just to the right of the shoal. "Wait". My hand itched to start the strip, but I reasoned that "Pops" knew much more than I about catching bonefish. "Tick it". Three little two-inch jerks from me made the fly hop like a shrimp along the bottom. There was no mistaking the take. A huge tug on the line, and a burn on my forefinger as line was ripped off the reel. Instinctive trout-fishing reaction made me lift the rod and strike. The fish ran twenty yards and the hook came away. I remembered too late that the only way to be sure of hooking a bonefish is to 'strip-strike", heaving on the line with the rod pointing at the fish.

The rest of the shoal were still feeding, 'Pops' grinned. "Don't worry, we'll catch another". And I did, fifteen in fact, averaging three pounds, but I couldn't tempt the golden one. After releasing each fish, "Pops" took the boat round on a wide "loch-style" D-track and poled up the shoal again. Every day brought similar exciting fishing, some of the best when wading the shallows near the reef. Already saving up for next year's trip, I've every symptom of what's known as "bonefish fever". I hope I never recover.

My bank manager probably feels differently!