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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Whether inspired by a magazine article, a TV show or simply watching others have fun, new hobbies can come from the most unlikely places.

For one Florida Museum of Natural History employee, it was a Brad Pitt movie.

“Fly-fishing for me started when I saw the movie ‘A River Runs Through It,’ ” said Mary-B. Ferl, a field assistant and front desk receptionist at Dickinson Hall, where most of the museum’s collections are housed. “The story line revolves around these two brothers fly-fishing. It just has beautiful pictures and I thought, ‘You know, before I die, I want to do it.’ And why wait until I’m 80, why not start now?”

"Seducer" fly
This “Seaducer” fly, tied by Florida Museum of Natural History employee Mary-B. Ferl, is used to catch Spotted Sea Trout. The museum is displaying an exhibit of flies tied by employees in the Dickinson Hall lobby at Museum Road and Newell Drive during October. © Photo by Kristen Grace

Ferl’s interest led her to ask other museum employees who fly-fish for tips, and the people she found were more passionate about it than she expected. Over the past six months, she identified a group of museum researchers who tie their own flies, and each will have two samples of their work displayed in the Dickinson Hall lobby during October. Ferl also arranged for former museum researcher Dana Griffin to host a seminar of fly-fishing tales and tips at noon Oct. 21 in the Dickinson Hall lobby. Dickinson Hall is located on the University of Florida campus at the corner of Museum Road and Newell Drive.

“It just started out as a little group thing, but I thought, ‘Well let’s put it all out there for everybody to see,’ ” Ferl said. “Mostly, it’s really nice that everyone is into it and I’ve learned a whole lot just talking to them about this stuff. It’s also turned out to be a real nice thing where people have made friends – this little group has found each other.”

Environmental archaeology program collection manager Irv Quitmyer, who describes some people who tie their own flies as “almost cult-like,” gave Ferl fly-fishing practice at his lake house in Keystone Heights when she approached him for advice last spring.

“If you’re a real aficionado, you tie your own flies,” Quitmyer said. “Mine are very ugly, but they’ve been known to catch fish. It’s kind of a soothing sort of thing. It’s a lot like golf – it’s the process.”

While initially surprised there were so many museum faculty and staff fly-fishers, Quitmyer said the connection might be the appeal to the natural world.

“Here we are taking observations found in nature to fool a fish into striking an artificial bait,” Quitmyer said. “It really brings the fisherman/fisherwoman closer to understanding the natural relationship between predator and prey – natural history.”

"Popper" fly
“Popper” by Irv Quitmyer. Used to catch wounded bait fish and Tarpon. © Photo by Kristen Grace

Quitmyer started fly-fishing about two years ago and said it takes him about 20 minutes to tie a fly from raw materials, which include hooks, feathers, hackles and eyes.

“When you pop it in the water, it gurgles and snaps like a fish that’s been wounded, and that’s like a dinner bell,” Quitmyer said.

The exhibit will also include images of the type of fish each fly is designed to attract. Some fishermen will “match the hatch,” by forcing a fish to regurgitate so the fly can be matched to the fish’s actual diet, Quitmyer said.

Other exhibit participants include mammalogy graduate student Bret Boyd, herpetology collection manager Kenneth Krysko, vertebrate paleontology volunteer Bob Tarnuzzer, museum volunteer Jodi Slapcinsky, and Doug Soltis, a distinguished professor in the University of Florida’s biology department and researcher in the UF Genetics Institute.

While fly-fishing requires some expertise, Quitmyer said the process does not need to be a workout, but rather, has a lot to with technique and the physics of how to make a rod work.

“It’s the most fun that I’ve ever had and not caught any fish,” Quitmyer said.

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Source: Mary Ferl, 352-273-1821,
Writer: Danielle Torrent,
Media contact: Paul Ramey, 352-273-2054,