We Lost A Lot - Remembering Jose Wejebe

by Tommy Sanders

Photo of Jose Wejebe

The human mind will go through some incredible contortions when it’s confronted with something it cannot and does not want to come to terms with.

It will grasp for things like disbelief, denial, and the hope that somehow what’s happening is all a bad dream from which you will soon awaken.

That’s the way it felt for all of us who knew the one and only Jose Wejebe. That’s the way it still feels, a few weeks into the aftermath of his passing.

We lost a lot.

We met Jose 20 years ago at an event called the S.L.A.M. tournament in Key West, Fla., a celebrity event that paired famous sports and media figures with a local saltwater guide to make up a two-person team.

We were just getting started in the business of producing fishing tournament shows in those days, getting to know the players and how their personalities mean so much to the success of a show.

Jose was paired with Kim Bokamper of the Miami Dolphins. Jerry McKinnis took a cameraman out to shoot tape of their first competition day. The boat driver for Jerry was another Florida flats guide. Jose was convinced that the place he was going to fish was the absolute “juice” as they say, so he was none too happy about a rival guide seeing this place. So he requested that the boat driver wear a blindfold. Also, Jose had scratched the lens of his eye just before the tournament and was wearing an eye patch himself.

That night as we all gathered for the scoring event, Jerry was asked to stand up and say a few words about his day.

Jerry: “Well, it was pretty rough -- there I was in the boat with my driver blindfolded, trying to follow a one-eyed Cuban.”

Funny stuff, but we were convinced that this guy Jose was one of the stronger personalities we had ever come across. That would turn out to be one of our most prominent understatements of the late 20th century.

Two years later we were working with him on the first season of “The Spanish Fly,” his television show that came to set the standard for its category, and was truly one of the very best things on television regardless of category.

Jose, who was born in Havana and fled with his family from Castro’s revolution to start anew in America, had a singular passion for life under the sea.

True, he had amazing fishing skills, both self taught and learned from befriending the greats of the sport like Stu Apte and Flip Pallot.

But he also was endlessly curious about all aspects of saltwater life, seeking out and soaking in that knowledge like a sponge, so to speak.

In the space of a 30-minute show, he could explain to us how a certain species of fish lives its life, how it fits into its world, and then show us the most unique and meaningful way to fish for it. And as if that wasn’t enough -- by the end of the program, we would have a better understanding of one of the most difficult to explain passions on earth: Why we sportfish.

He had friends all over the world and legions of fans, of course. He lived for them and he wanted them to experience it all. His generosity of spirit made him become, not a gatekeeper who doles out bits of knowledge and keeps most of it for himself, but someone who gave us pretty much everything he had in that great repository of saltwater knowledge that was his mind. He let us all take off the blindfolds.

Gone too soon, of course. But we don’t weep for the life of someone who realized that we are all here for just a short time, so the thing is to grab hold of life and live every minute to the fullest. We celebrate that life and take that joyous memory with us as we go forward.