Just mentioning the words "fly fishing" conjures up magical images of casting for brookies in the Rockies, rainbows in Arkansas, specks in the Gulf of Mexico, silver salmon in Alaska and even bedding bluegills here in Mississippi.

But suggest targeting largemouth bass with fly tackle, and you are sure to raise a few eyebrows from anglers accustomed to hauling giant bucketmouths from thick cover with modern baitcasting or spinning gear. The presumed inefficiency of light fly tackle might lead the conventional bass fisherman to view the idea as a bit crazy.

However, these days more and more anglers are beginning to realize that fly fishing for largemouth bass can be even more rewarding and enjoyable than trout-only fly fishing. Bass tend to provide a much stronger and lengthier fight, which makes each catch that much more exciting. And while the challenge of this sport's limitations is what attracts many of us to fly fishing, Magnolia State fly fishermen consistently demonstrate that the fly rod is a very effective bass-catching tool.

Although fly fishing indeed has its limitations, there are also a number of advantages to this method of bass fishing. Fly fishing allows the largemouth angler to offer up a wider variety of food imitations.

"While large baitcasting lures only imitate a small number of food sources, flies can imitate virtually all the sources of bass food, including small organisms like nymphs and even dry flies," said Cameron Larson, retired commercial fly tier and fly fishing guide who now operates The Big Y Fly Company. "Fly fishermen can also cast out mice, frogs and a variety of other food sources for these opportunistic feeders.

"Many times bass are found in shallow water, hiding under or near logs or snags or in weeds. Fly casters have the advantage of more accurate placement, and being able to place their offerings quietly without spooking skittish fish."

Byram's Albert Wood, a past president of Magnolia Fly Fishers, couldn't agree more. Wood's passion for fly fishing began more than 30 years ago when he borrowed his grandfather's ancient yellow Shakespeare fly rod and headed out to a local farm pond in search of bedding bluegill. Although only 10 years old, Wood knew that he was hooked for life on the fine art of fly fishing. And since he holds almost 25 percent of the Mississippi Freshwater Fly Fishing Records, most would agree that he has more than mastered the art.

"Although most of my record-book fish came from the Pearl River and the Mississippi River, I prefer to do most of my fly fishing from small farm ponds, due to the lack of fishing pressure they receive," Wood said. "The vast majority of the largemouth bass I hook are incidental catches while I'm working a small fly over a bream bed. But I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth."

After noticing that largemouth bass had a natural affinity for his two-fly bream rig consisting of a floating Bluegill Popper trailed by a wet fly like a Bream Killer, Wood decided to experiment with a few lures and techniques he had found to be successful for speckled trout in the marshes around Grand Isle, La. The result was one of the most effective largemouth bass setups to be found.

"I start out with a homemade popper that works much like the popping cork used on speckled trout rigs, then tie on a Clouser Minnow about 3 feet behind the popper," Wood said. "Largemouths can't resist this combination. The popper gets their attention, and the baitfish-imitating Clouser Minnow seals the deal."

Although this combination is very effective at catching bass, Wood likes to keep his options open. For example, he always keeps a chartreuse/black Bass Popper at the ready in case he spots a largemouth hitting topwater. As soon as he sees a big swirl, Wood casts the Bass Popper to the center of the swirl and waits for the fish to hammer it.

According to Wood, other large floating deer hair bass bugs imitating frogs or mice can be just as effective when presented to bass that are boiling the water. Bedding bass, on the other hand, require a little different technique and a lot more finesse. Wood prefers a wet fly in a crawfish pattern that he allows to sink soft and gentle down into the bed, being careful not to spook the fish. Since unwanted intruders aren't tolerated by bedding bass, this presentation will usually result in a strike.

While small farm ponds might be Wood's fishery of choice, some of the larger state fishing lakes like Calling Panther can also be productive. On these larger lakes that receive more intense bass fishing pressure, Wood has discovered that smaller flies tend to be more effective. These pressured bass are more inclined to hit small flies because they see so many large lures on a daily basis. It follows the old fishing adage that pressured fish are more apt to attack a lure that they have never seen before.

Water clarity is an important characteristic that can be found in both small farm ponds and most state fishing lakes. Clear water favors the fly fisherman since they rely heavily on fishing by sight. This is especially true during this time of year when the topwater action reaches a peak. Over half the time you will see a bass coming after your topwater fly.

"The excitement of springtime topwater action is what got me interested in fly fishing for largemouths," said Tommy Shropshire of Terry, a die-hard fly fisherman who helped create the Mississippi State Fly Fishing Records Program. "Topwater fly fishing for bass is very similar to quail hunting. A largemouth explodes just like a covey of quail when it blasts through the surface of the water to devour one of my hand-tied deer hair bugs. Even when you think you're ready, it always seems to catch you by surprise.

"Even the basic mistake we make resulting from this sudden burst of excitement is very similar in both sports. The normal reaction to a covey rise is to throw up and shoot, even though we know it is better to be patient and wait. The same goes for a bass exploding on a floating bug. You need to pause for a moment and give the fish time to take the lure before setting the hook."

When Shropshire first got started fly fishing for bass, he used heavy gear to counteract the problems he expected to encounter in landing big fish in thick cover. However, he soon discovered that the heavier tackle wasn't necessary, and gravitated from a 9-weight rod to a stiff 5-weight rod. While he admits that lighter tackle requires more finesse, he has landed numerous 5- and 6-pound bass without much trouble.

"For someone new to the sport, I would recommend starting out with a 6-, 7- or even 8-weight rod spooled with 14- to 16-pound-test line," said Shropshire. "I have found that bass are not leader shy, so smaller diameter lines are not necessary."

According to Shropshire, most of the bass he catches this time of year are in shallow water close to the shoreline. Most will be in the 1½- to 3-pound range, but he has caught bass weighing close to 10 pounds in well-managed ponds. His lures of choice consist of natural deer hair bass bugs and black Bass Poppers with red heads. He enjoys seeing a big largemouth explode through the water's surface with one of his hand-tied Bass Poppers in its maw.

With an abundance of fishing spots loaded with largemouth bass, Mississippi offers fly fishermen like Wood and Shropshire almost unlimited local opportunities to fill their stringers. And with only a small contingency of anglers opting for a fly rod, they are sure to have most fishing spots to themselves.

That is until all those guys who are still chasing 10-pounders with baitcasting gear finally realize what they're missing.