Editor's Note: Jose Wejebe, host of top-rated saltwater fishing television show Spanish Fly, died Friday, April 6 after filming the most recent episode of his TV show.
It must have been about 1997 after ESPN2 had been up and running for a couple of years that I got a call from the head of sales at the network.
“Jerry, I’ve got a problem with one of the shows you’re producing for us.”
We were producing several at the time, and I was shocked to find that his problem was with Jose Wejebe’s Spanish Fly show. Even more surprised to find out that the problem was with the show title. In case you don’t know, Spanish Fly has another meaning and this salesman wanted to know who named the show and why.
So here was my answer:
“I named it myself,” I replied. “And why …. well, Jose is from Cuba and he’s one heck of a fly fisherman. Plus that’s the name of his boat. To me, Spanish Fly sounds like a good title.”
With this revelation, I was winning the battle; the clincher was when he asked how long have we been on the air with this show.
I answered, “Two years.”
Now he’s the one who is shocked and says he’ll call me back later. Of course, not another word is ever said about that again.
After those first two years, Spanish Fly was the best saltwater show out there and maybe the best fishing show of any kind with its host, Jose Wejebe, on his way to becoming a star.
That was 17 years ago and today Spanish Fly is still the best. But the star, Jose, is no longer with us. You see, he died in a plane crash last Friday afternoon. Kind of takes your breath away, doesn't it?
I’d like to back way up and talk a little about his journey and how I came to know this incredible individual.
First off, let me say that Jose was a Cuban refugee and his mother, Grace, escaped the country with Jose and his sister, Alba, when they were very young. His father was in Castro’s prison, and they gave up everything to get to the United States. This whole subject was something Jose never talked a lot about. It must have been very painful. But he grew up in the Miami area; and as you might imagine, he was eaten up with fishing.
Now it’s the early 90s, Jose is living in Key West and becoming a very special saltwater fisherman.
At this same time, I am producing a tournament driven show for ESPN called The Mariner Tournament Trail. We’re covering a celebrity bone fishing event out of Islamorada, and one of the guides in the event is none other than Jose Wejebe with his celebrity angler Ted Hendricks, the former Miami Dolphins linebacker.
My job, along with a cameraman, was to cover this team; and I was immediately taken with how strong Jose’s presence was on camera.
When I got back home, I told my son Mike about what I had run into, and we agreed that it might be a good idea to ask Jose about doing a saltwater show for the new ESPN2 outdoor block of programming.
Next thing you know, I’m on my way back to south Florida, but get this – Jose only agrees to meet and talk with me if I will bring my racquetball gear and play him a few games. At the time, he was really into that sport and had heard about my game and wanted to try me out.
Jose had made a mistake on the racquetball challenge but we absolutely bonded and he agreed to give this television idea a whirl.
Well … whirl, I guess. He became producer of the show, host (of course), underwater cameraman and salesman. Right up to the end, he and Mike worked together part of every day planning the future of Spanish Fly.
Now don’t take this the wrong way, folks, but I know television production and here’s the bottom line: In the outdoor world, Spanish Fly will never be duplicated. The photography, production quality, educational value and overall personality was the best. That’s all there is to it. It was the best.
You can see most of that by just turning on your TV. But finding out about Jose Wejebe and what makes him tick is a little harder. I’m going to take a crack at it, though, and I hope I do a good job.
Jose Wejebe would never compromise on anything and he always wanted to find out more about life. He experienced it more than most people but seemed to pick out different areas to see if he could excel in them.
Fishing, of course, was a great example of that; his underwater photography is maybe a better example. He became world class at both.
He designed saltwater boats, built fly rods and tied flies, but let’s get away from fishing.
Jose decided he wanted to play guitar. The result? He became good enough to entertain at Key West clubs.
I can keep going here. He taught himself to kiteboard and became one of the best. And here’s the sad one, you might say.
He fell in love with flying.
Jose not only became a very skilled pilot but he also worked with a company to build his own high performance airplane.
I know what you’re thinking. The airplane route is what got us here today.
But please remember: Jose did things because of his love for life. And, as I said before, he wanted to know more about everything.
Praise him for his great courage.
As I end this, I want to say that most of all I will miss his heart and his calming way.
A 15-minute visit with Jose would last me for three months.
This past winter, I had heart bypass surgery; in January, I was starting to get out and about. I went in to the office one day because Jose was in town. He needed to see that I was up and at ’em, and I needed the 15-minute visit.
I couldn’t stay long; when I left, we gave each other a stronger hug than most men give each other and said goodbye.
Little did I know that this 15-minute visit would have to last me forever. I would never see Jose again.
We all love you, Bro.