Features: Conversation With...

Apr
2002

A Story With a Hook





A Story With a Hook

Jose Wejebe goes fishing for a living 

by BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY

When we hear the term “professional fisherman,” most of us think of bass fishing, a recent phenomenon on the national TV sports scene known for its big cash prizes and the reckless abandon with which contestants pursue “the big catch.”
Mention this spectacle to a fishing purist like Jose Wejebe, however, and they cringe.

“Fishing shouldn’t be about money,” says the long-time captain and fishing guide from his home in the Florida Keys. “We already have enough stress in our lives. I view fishing as more than a sport. I see it as a chance to get back to nature, feel free and have some fun.”

“Fishing shouldn’t be about money. We already have enough stress in our lives. I view fishing as more than a sport. I see it as a chance to get back to nature, feel free and have some fun.”


This appreciation for the essence of the sport has helped Wejebe mold a lifelong obsession into a career as one of the most famous fishermen in the world. The Cuban-born captain came to Florida with his family when he was three years old and had a fishing pole in his hand constantly, he says, by the time he was eight.
“My mom tells me I had a sinus condition when I was younger and the doctor told her salt water would help me feel better,” recalls Wejebe. “She’d pick me up from school every day and take me to the beach. Eventually, she bought me a mask, snorkel and fins so I could go diving. I just found the ocean fascinating.”
At 12, Wejebe began crafting his own “flies” out of carpet fibers and dog hair and sending them to his fishing heroes. As he grew older, he says, he had the opportunity to fish with most of them, including his eventual mentor Flip Pallot. By the time he was a teenager, Wejebe was splitting his after-school time between fishing boats and the Miami Marine Aquarium, becoming an expert fishing guide as well as a diver and underwater photographer. At 16, he was already logging significant “sea time” as a first mate on charter fishing boats out of Miami. He obtained his captain’s license as soon as he turned 18 and his idol, Pallot, helped him buy his first boat. Within a few years, he earned a reputation as one of the best fishing guides in the south Florida, using his eyes and his knowledge of the water to help clients find the perfect fishing spot. Soon, he started making regular appearances as a guest on Pallot’s televised fishing shows.

“Flip was doing a lot of TV and he asked me to do some of the shows with him,” remembers Wejebe. “I realized then it was something I’d like to do more of.”
Wejebe says he approached Jerry McKinnis, co-founder of JM Outdoors and mastermind of the ESPN and ESPN2 outdoor programming lineup, about doing his own show. “He had seen some of the shows I had done with Flip, and said, ‘Just go out and have fun and we’ll film you,’” Wejebe recalls.

Since 1995, Wejebe has followed in the footsteps of many of his mentors by hosting “The Spanish Fly” on ESPN2, a staple on the cable network’s popular Saturday morning Outdoors series (Sundays, 9:30 a.m. ET). “Major” sport stars in baseball and football may get more media coverage, but it’s athletes like Wejebe who influence the sports apparel and equipment purchasing decisions of millions of weekend athletes in fishing, hunting, sailing and golfing circles, among others. And, dispensers take note: Many of them have eyewear sponsorship deals (Wejebe’s is with Costa del Mar).

Over the years, for instance, “The Spanish Fly” has evolved into more than just a fishing show, developing a loyal, almost cultish, following among fishing enthusiasts. Tailored after Wejebe’s own laid-back personality and joy of fishing, the show incorporates a soundtrack of well-known classical music to capture what Wejebe calls “the rhythm” of fishing on the open water. The show takes viewers to some of the world’s most beautiful fishing spots—from Cabo San Lucas to Latin America—while showcasing amazing underwater photography from the host himself. Of course, there is also plenty of the captain’s expert advice for fishing fanatics.

“Fishing to me is an art form,” says Wejebe, who now limits his fishing guide work to charity events. “Certain types of fishing are soothing. Others are exciting and frenetic. Classical music, the whole tone of the show, seems to go with that. TV to me is a great way to get people into the sport and present it as a great way to get away from it all.”

“Fly” viewers also see plenty of Wejebe in his Costas, which is great for the company and the dispensers who sell its eyewear. But Wejebe takes his sports eyewear as seriously as his fishing rod and tackle. He is a prescription sunglass wearer, but says he usually wears contact lenses with plano sunwear out on the water, until his eyes get fatigued. Then he switches to Rx sunwear. He is a big fan of Costa’s Wave Killer line, equipped with Wave 580 polarized lenses, because they give him “crisp vision in bright sun and cloudy conditions.” His knowledge of lens technology is impressive.

“Polarized lenses are a must when you are out on the water eight to 10 hours a day,” he says. “When I was looking into an eyewear deal, I wanted to find a company that had already made inroads into the saltwater fishing market and I wanted to be involved in the field testing and development of the products I used. You can’t be out there without good eyewear. It’s absolutely essential. When you’re out there on the flats, you need to see through the water and see the fish in shallow areas. Costa did a lot of homework in terms of developing glasses for all types of fishing. I couldn’t do what I do without them.”

 

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