Davis Nabs Watson Fellowship

BAR HARBOR — At last count Blake Davis, a senior at College of the Atlantic has made 14,121 fly fishing lures. Constructing these intricate lures of thread, feather, and fur for sale to others has seen him through high school and college. Now they will take him around the world as one of 40 recipients of a 2011 Watson Fellowship.

Fellows are given a $25,000 stipend for a year of travel outside the United States, by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. For the past 43 years, the foundation has selected extraordinary college seniors, enabling each fellow to pursue a dream involving travel around the world.


Mr. Davis, who completed a newsroom internship at the Mount Desert Islander as part of his studies, will head to Australia, India, and Costa Rica in pursuit of his project, “The Culture and Evolution of Fly Fishing Techniques.” Chosen from among 148 nominees across the nation, he is the 30th COA student to receive a Watson Fellowship.

A native of Lee, Mass., he began his immersion in fly fishing with his father when he was 11. He fell so in love with the sport that he soon began going alone. Summer days would be spent biking “to the local river, sweltering in the hazy New England summer and catching golden carp after golden carp,” Mr. Davis wrote in his grant proposal.

But when he embarks on his fellowship year, he will be heading toward the cities, not the rural areas more typical of fly fishing. Mr. Davis is looking into how the sport has changed as cities around the world encroach on rivers and coasts, polluting and crowding locales that had been ideal for trout and salmon fly fishing waters. “Fly fishing as a whole is evolving – adapting century-old traditions to species and techniques better-suited to present conditions.” Though fly fishing is traditionally an elite activity practiced in pristine environments, Mr. Davis will spend most of his time in urban environments to document the innovations of individual fly fishers, seeking to discover approaches to the sport, “not acknowledged in the traditional portrayal of fly fishing today.”

Ultimately he hopes to expand the popular image of fly fishing. He will use a travel blog and a website to document his discoveries. Along with his observations of the fishing grounds of the regions where he is traveling, he will record how their flies are created.

As interesting as this and other projects are says Cleveland Johnson, director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson fellow, “these awards are long-term investments in people, not research.” The foundation is looking for future leaders and innovators, he continues, to “give them extraordinary independence to pursue their interests outside of traditional academic structures. Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers, and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals. The Watson Fellowship affords an unparalleled opportunity for global experiential learning.”

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective long-term contribution to the global community.

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