Along with about 900 other friends, fans and family, I attended the memorial service for Jose Wejebe last Sunday at the IGFA museum and headquarters in Dania Beach, Florida. As many of you know, Wejebe was killed in the crash of his own private airplane in southwest Florida on Friday, April 6.
Wejebe was a talented Key West guide long before becoming one of the most famous saltwater television fishing personalities through his Spanish Fly show. I first met Jose in the early 1990s, possibly through a Shimano event in Key West. I can’t recall the exact circumstance of how we met.
At the service, many close friends and business associates of Jose’s spoke of their years of friendship, of great fishing days, but mostly of the man himself, of his charm, irreverant sense of humor, and his great humility and approachability.
In many ways, Wejebe became so popular because he was someone that almost everyone could relate to on one level or another, an Everyman if you will. He always exuded a positive attitude, lived life on his own terms, and was the kind of guy you felt like you’d known your entire life almost as soon as you met him. Capt. Steve Huff, one of the Florida Keys’ most renowned flats guides may have summed it up best during his eulogy of Jose when he said, “Just seeing him walking down the dock toward you would always lift your spirits.”
Wejebe and I became friends over the years, although I never fished with him until a few short years ago, when we put together a trip to Key West with SWS staff and the folks from Costa Del Mar. It was late May and we were going sailfishing, not exactly prime season. It was flat clam and we had trouble catching bait. Before we knew it, noon had arrived and we were baitless.
“Don’t worry, Bro, I know a guy,” he said. We ran by boat to a waterfront section of Key West called Key Haven, where we searched several canals for Jose’s bait connection’s house ( he wasn’t exactly sure where the guy lived), but we eventually found it, at 1:00 pm. We bought a few goggleyes and headed offshore.
About 10 miles out, a slight color change appeared, and we stopped to put out baits. We hadn’t been there 10 minutes when the first sailfish showed up. Jose seemed totally unfazed by the fact that we had struggled so hard for bait all morning, only making it offshore well after noon, in the wrong time of year, in less than ideal conditions, and yet, there we were, hooked up.
We caught seven sailfish in three hours, and then everyone jumped in the ocean for a quick Gulf Stream swim before heading in. Business as usual for Wejebe, who in addition to being all of the things mentioned above, was one hell of a fisherman.
The fishing world has lost one of its most unique individuals and brightest stars. Lots of us will miss him, but long after the sadness wanes, we will still have those memories which will bring smiles to our faces and occasionally cause us to laugh out loud, for the rest of our lives. Perhaps that will be Jose’s most enduring legacy.