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Passing on the gift

3/2/2010

As the host of "Spanish Fly" on ESPN2, Jose Wejebe has fished all over the world and caught an array of impressive gamefish. But the most memorable trips Wejebe has these days are the ones with anglers who don't typically get to go fishing.

"I've been so blessed," said Wejebe, whose show has been on the air for 15 years. "To me, the most enjoyable thing is to take someone out there who hasn't been or is less privileged.

"Taking them out has been more rewarding than going out and filming a show or catching a huge fish."

That's why Wejebe has partnered with the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation to help the organization kick off its Spring Take Me Fishing campaign, spending two days at the RBFF booth at the Miami International Boat Show.

Master Caster Aaron McAlexander also is working with RBFF to get out the message about how easy it is to go fishing, meeting with people last week at the Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Ala.

RBFF is taking the initiative in the wake of a January 2010 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that kids ages 8-18 spend nearly eight hours a day texting, listening to music, playing video games, surfing the internet and watching television.

"The core mission of RBFF is simple -- to encourage participation in boating and fishing," RBFF president and CEO Frank Peterson said. "We believe that engaging parents and getting kids interested in the sport are some of the best ways we can fulfill that mission."

Wejebe, who grew up in Miami, Fla., became interested in fishing as a youngster when his mother got him a dive mask and fins and he saw small blue runners and snappers while swimming off a local beach. He then got a cheap fishing rod and reel, which he used to catch jacks while wading a flat by a bridge in Biscayne Bay.

Later, his stepfather took him fishing and diving in Islamorada and on overnight trips in Florida Bay. Fly-fishing legend Lefty Kreh, who used to run the MET Tournament in Miami, taught Wejebe how to cast a fly rod.

Now, it's Wejebe's turn to give back to others and help them get into fishing. And he has the ideal partner in the RBFF.

"I think this is the beginning of a long-term relationship," Wejebe said. "The focus of what they're doing correlates with a lot of what I'm doing.

"Let's get people away from the computers and video games and get them back on the water."

While Wejebe cherishes the memories of trips with those who are new to fishing, he noted that those he takes have their own powerful memories.

His daughter, who has "been on the water since I could hold her," is a case in point. She recalls many fishing trips with her father, usually starting out by saying, "Remember the time …"

"Every time we take our children or anybody fishing," Wejebe said, "we're building 'remember the times.' "

RBFF has updated its TakeMeFishing.org website to make it easier to have a memorable time while fishing. According to RBFF customer relations representative Jeff Sedor, who was at the Miami boat show with Wejebe, the improved website is more user friendly.

"We built more content into it," Sedor said. "It's your one-stop shop for fishing and boating."

The site includes information on places to go boating and fishing in all 50 states. There is info about saltwater and freshwater fishing as well as fly-fishing. You can learn about specific fish at Fishopedia, learn how to tie knots and even get recipes so you can cook your catch.

There's a fishing with your family section with games, useful links, videos of basic fishing and boating tips and a hall of fame where you can register your catches. And there's a great viral video section where you can watch McAlexander make some incredible casts.

The boating section has all types of information on boats and boating, and even connects you with your state of residence so you can register your boat.

"We want to get them away from the computer," Sedor said, "but this is a great place to help them do what they want to do."

Steve Waters is the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Read more of his stories online at www.sunsentinel.com/outdoors.