National Fisherman

Holding watch at a thousand feet

Veteran fisherman, fish spotter and photographer shares his bird's-eye view

By John P. Lee

When Wayne Davis came home from Vietnam to Galilee, R.I., he returned to dragging — the same site on the same boat. Four years later, at 26, he registered for flight school. "I had the sudden inspiration that I wanted to learn how to fly and become a fish spotter," Davis says.

Now aged 66, he's still at it. He's got his blue Coast Guard jumpsuit, his headset, his aviator glasses. He has his camera, a water bottle and a sandwich. His plane is a high-wing, fabric-covered two-seater. It's got a single prop, and instead of a steering wheel, a stick. "They don't make planes much smaller," says Davis. He also likes the fact — maybe it's a good omen — that his plane was built the same day he returned from the war, May 9, 1969.

For the better part of four decades, when Davis flew, he was looking for bluefin tuna or swordfish. His job was to find fish for a harpoon boat and get the boat close enough for the striker to get a kill. Each fish paid, though it did vary, swords at $75 a fish (fuel costs covered by the boat) and bluefin at 30 percent of market value.

But even then, when the motive was all business and he didn't have much time to take shots, Davis carried a camera. "In the course of a day looking for fish you can see some spectacular stuff. If I had the time I'd try and take a few shots."

Lately Davis is an all-purpose fish spotter, working for clients (often scientists or other photographers) to find specific things: white sharks, whale sharks, sperm whales. Davis has the fisherman's sense of when and where. If you ask him about a fish or marine mammal, he'll answer you simply, like a man with nothing to prove, nothing to gain: "We've seen them there before, in July," he might say, "when the wind is blowing onto [Georges] Bank."

National Fisherman Live

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National Fisherman Live: 4/8/14

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