Nearly 25 years ago Alejandro “Sandflea” Vega Cruz, came upon two men fly fishing from the beach near his home on Isla Holbox, a tiny island off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. He was transfixed by the slim rods and the technique that was a far cry from the nets and baited lines used by most fisherman he’d ever seen.
“What are you fishing for?” he asked.
“Tarpon,” one of the men replied. Sandflea looked at them quizzically, not familiar with the word.
In broken spanish they described the long silver body, the forked tail, the armor-like scales of the fish they sought. Sandflea’s eyes brightened, “Ahhh… Sabalo!” he exclaimed and persuaded the men to follow him.
The trio boarded a small boat and headed into the mangroves that surrounded the south side of the island. Within minutes they could see dark green backs rolling in the mangrove creeks. Sandflea let out an excited whisper, “Sabalo!”. He pointed over the bow and gestured for the men to cast a fly.
From that day forward Sandflea has dedicated his life to guiding fly fisherman for tarpon around Holbox. He works tirelessly year-round and to this day cannot suppress his excitement when a fish rolls within an angler’s reach.
The growth and success of his guide service has not only allowed for Sandflea to provide a great life for his children and grandchildren, it has helped build the economy of the entire island. Anglers from around the world make regular pilgrimages to Holbox, supporting local hotels, restaurants and shops during their stay.
Working as a guide under Mr. Sandflea is one of the most sought-after jobs on the island. Most of his guides have known him their whole lives and began their careers as teenagers hauling gear, patching pangas and training their eyes to spot fish.
When he’s not on the water himself or traveling across Mexico to teach fly fishing and guiding techniques, Sandflea can generally be found one of two places; at the elementary school near his house, teaching english to the children of Holbox or at home with his wife Elia, his sweetheart since the 5th grade. Their home is rarely a quiet place as friends or clients from the days fishing (usually the two are one in the same) are often gathered under the thatched porch awning, enjoying cold Sol and the remarkable creations from Elia’s kitchen.
Like his home, Sandflea’s heart overflows with generosity and kindness for family and friends. But that same heart has never been very kind to its host. At eighteen years old Sandflea was the recipient of a new heart valve in the first open heart surgery ever performed in the Mexican city of Merida. In 2001 that original valve began to fail and was replaced.
Now, at forty four years old, Sandflea’s heart is in need of a third repair. If he is to live out the long life he deserves his valve needs to be replaced with the skill and technology available in an American hospital. His surgery is scheduled for June 3rd, 2015 at the Cleveland Clinic.
The surgery and subsequent recovery are extremely expensive, so we are asking all who have encountered Sandflea as friends, clients, fans of his appearances in the Fly Fishing Film Tour or all of the above to lend your support to his cause.
Please visit the Save Sandflea page at Gofundme.com or facebook.com/savesandflea and contribute whatever you are able. Even five or ten dollars will be a huge help as we all join together and get our friend the help he needs.