The Online Fisherman

Jose Wejebe

When Captain David Rieumont and me first started this site, we thought of the people we knew that might help us with the key to all successful magazines (web or ink-on-paper): content. Content is what it's all about, and we figured that between the two of us, we were either already friends or associated with some serious professional anglers or television stars in the outdoors field, or we were nuts enough to just call anybody we didn't know. Heck. They could only say no, right? So we called them all. Some of them didn't call us back. Some of them did. One of the guys that called me back during those first frantic and hopeful months was a Cuban guy I had seen so many times on TV that I felt like he was a friend of mine. The weirdest thing I could have imagined happened that day I emailed Jose Wejebe. The guy nicknamed "The Spanish Fly" emailed me back. It was like an hour later. When I saw his name in my normally spam-filled list of current unread email, I figured I had to be seeing things, right? I still have it somewhere I'm sure. I can remember the message so very clearly, though.

Jose Wejebe working in Dominican Republic

Jose on the right doing what he did best: helping other people. Working here in the Dominican Republic building houses and building spirits, the professional angler was humble to say the least. When I asked him -- as a complete stranger -- for help with this new site, his response was "Sure, Gary. Anything any of us can do to teach people about this sport is worth it." The simple video of tying a permit fly made our new site shine with its beautiful quality, professional look and feel. The fact that The Spanish Fly had let us run it here still blows me away. It was a true honor to know the guy. He was -- like a hero of mine named Captain David M. Rieumont -- deeply involved in the Make-a-Wish foundation. Consider sending Make-A-Wish a few bucks tonight in memory of our fishing friend. Farewell, Jose. I'll see you on the water one of these days, my friend.

"Sure I'll help you, Gary. I like the site. Anything any of us can do to teach people about this sport is worth it. I have a few nice videos on the site, and we just put one up yesterday about tying a great permit fly. It's 'fresh' so it might help you get some visits." I put the video up (you can see it if you click the image below). I was really impressed that a guy like Jose would help me. I talked to him on the phone that night for almost an hour. We talked about websites and fishing.

A lot about sites, and a lot about fishing. I told him of the 30 pound permit we catch on nearshore wrecks here, and said I would love to put one of those flies he showed me on top of one, but laughed that I thought a flyrod was like a golf club: a tool ill-suited for its purpose. The pure and clear laughter that came from the guy when I said that still rings. Two fishermen just laughing about fishing. I can wax the language into visions sometimes. But in all, he was just a very cool guy with a very cool laugh, laughing about something we both sort-of-knew to be true. He told me -- like many in his league have told me privately -- that many anglers would be better off starting with spinning tackle and a good guide; that the elitist world of high-end flyfishing was fun, but so was catching fish on a cane pole.

How to tie a Permit fly by Jose Wejebe

I was a nobody in the world of high-end, high-dollar sports fishing. He was a guy I watched on major networks since I knew how to catch tarpon myself, for God's sake. I remember one show in particular. Jose had one of those hundred pound residential tarpon on one of his client's relatively light tackle equipment. Jose could put people on fish, man. I was watching as the guy let the light drag Jose insisted on get a little away from him, and the huge silver king slipped under one of those tight, white concrete bridges you find in those old nineteen-twenty neighborhoods. You couldn't run the tower the Fly was fishing back then. It may have been on ABC or NBC. I don't remember the channel. But man, do I remember the fight.

The fish had run under the bridge, and under any normal circumstances, would have broken off in moments. But it wasn't a human on that tower that day helping that man catch his first tarpon. It was Jose Wejebe. It was the "Fly", man. I remember my younger brother telling me with a snicker, "look at that guy, bro. I bet he don't need no Spanish Fly, man." I'm glad I can laugh today. I'm glad I can still laugh about that tarpon that day.

Jose tells the angler "give him more slack. Let him run!" and with that, the angler lowers the rod tips and watches as Jose -- like some kind of warrior climbing a turret to grab an enemy gunman climbs down that tower, pulls his shirt off, and gets into the water. I fish those kinds of canals. He couldn't stand up in the likely nine-foot center. He gets close to the docks where the depth allows him to stand chest deep, and he takes the rod off his client. He walked against that bridge wall, under the bridge, and from the other side, in the water, turns that fish. He backs out, watching his own boat drifting behind him, and with eyes on the back and front, backs that tarpon under that bridge back into the canal where he started from (and where his boat was cooperating by not blowing away down the canal, but rather laying against one of the docks), and puts the rod back into the hands of the angler on his boat.

I've seen a lot of fishing shows since then and before then. But in my mind, the most memorable of all fishing experiences in my own life personally was seeing that incredible freaken Cuban guy on TV get out of his boat, wade under that bridge, fight that tarpon tired, and back him under that same bridge to hand over to his client. It was like nothing I had ever seen, or certainly experienced. He had me there that day. He laughed at himself -- something I know he was good at. I know how un-impressed with himself he was when he was looking at that first email.

This afternoon, that incredible angler -- that guy named Jose Wejebe -- was lost to the fishing community, his family and his friends. His single-engine plane crashed, leaving no survivors, just outside Everglades Airpark. The park is on 29 acres and is a small facility close to the waters he loved so very, very much. His ex-wife confirmed that Jose was in the plane. Flying planes was something he loved as much as he loved the pull of the big fish he chased all over the world for his famous Spanish Fly TV show, on the Outdoor Channel (formerly ESPN).

The National Transportation Safety Board, one of the federal agencies that investigate plane crashes, has been "notified of an accident and is gathering information," but has no further data for us to share at this time. Sourcing is Washington, D.C.-based spokesman Peter Knudson.

Tonight that conversation that night about flyrods, cane poles and websites rings so gently to me. I so very much wish I had done it fifty more times. I so wish we did what we said that night. Something I've said to others like my friend Captain Rodney Smith. "We gotta fish together one of these days." I think of the incredible people I've met in this sport and writing about what's outside of people's offices, or outside their houses, or off their private property. That world we love so much. Those fish we chase. Guys like Mel Berman. Gone. Guys like Scott Moore, Rodney Smith, and my partner David Rieumont. Thank God still here. But life's short. I want to call them all. I will when I'm done writing this. The sport that glues us together will always keep us together. Mel's still with me every time I fish. And he's sure with me every time I write a story for this site. Now, so to, is Jose Wejebe. Goodnight, my friend. Goodnight. We'll fish together one of these days. Despite this short respite.

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