South African born Jako Lucas is one of the fishiest guides on the planet. His guiding resume includes places like the Seychelles, Mongolia, Norway, Zambia – throw a dart at a map and he’s probably guided there. In addition to guiding, Jako makes some of the world’s best fly fishing films. Jako started Capt. Jack Films production company in 2009. If you have half an ear to the ground in the world of fly fishing, I can guarantee you’ve seen some of his films. Most recently, Capt. Jack Films released Chanos Chanos in tandem with the Alphonse Island Fishing Company. Chanos Chanos is a mini documentary about the vegetarian, never tiring milkfish which was thought to be uncatchable on the fly. The film went on to be featured in the 2016 Fly Fishing Film Tour, alongside a few other films which Jako was involved with. It recently won the Drake Award for best film at ICAST 2016.
Amberjack sat down with Jako to better understand how he built this incredible career and to hear some stories from the water.
First things first, where are you from and how did you get into fly fishing?
Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. 2006, I started my guiding career in the Seychelles.
As with most of us, you learn your love for fishing from your father and grandfather. My father has been a competitive angler for many years and the manager for the South African rock and surf fishing team for a long time now.
Loving all aspects of the sport of fishing, I started fly fishing about 20 years ago; I started fly-fishing for trout and our local, South African, indigenous fish called Yellow fish. Very soon fly-fishing was the only way I wanted to target fish.
Even with my love of fishing, I never knew that there was a way to make a living out of it, until a chance encounter with Keith Rose-Innes one day. The stamps in my passport now include the notorious outer atolls of the Indian Ocean, namely Cosmoledo, Providence, Astove, Assumption, Farquhar, Alphonse, St Francois and St Brandon’s. I have also spent lots of time fishing and guiding Africa, USA, Russia, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Norway and Mongolia. Since I started guiding, I log minimum 250 days a year on the water and topping that with 320 days guiding in 2012.
How did you end up becoming a guide and where have you guided?
So while studying (probably more part time, because of fishing), I met Keith Rose-Innes at a party while on holiday at the coast. Our initial conversation started with me asking Keith where he got his Thomas & Thomas t-shirt he was wearing. Keith then proceeded to tell me what he does for a living… there was then no doubt in my mind what I was going to do and I wanted to do it immediately! He told me what steps I needed to follow to become a successful guide… and I got right to it. I made sure I finished my degree and soon after my studies I headed to London for a working holiday. I managed to get the job at Farlows, and I learned as much as I could about the fishing industry for that year. I gave Keith a call, whilst still in London, asking if there was an opportunity for me to be a guide… and the rest is history! I have now guided full time for a total of 10 years; 8 of those in the outer Atolls of the Seychelles (Cosmoledo, Farquhar, Providence, Astove, Assumption), St Brandon’s, 5 years in Norway, Mongolia and extensively throughout Africa and South Africa.
Have you ever thought about another profession?
There has never been a single day that I have looked back and thought that maybe I should consider another career. It is not a glamorous life style and contrary to popular belief, when you guide, film or take photos, you don’t get to fish. I am privileged to see some amazing places, but very often I will be out there all day filming/guiding without even a chance/opportunity to cast once! But with a lot of hard work and determination, I will get there and hopefully fish all the places on my bucket list! I am very happy with my choice in life and feel super fortunate to do what I do.
Tell us about one or two of your crazier days on the water.
On a trip in the Seychelles, I opted to fish the inside of the lagoon down towards the channel mouth and the surf zone to the right of the mouth. As soon as we set foot on the flats we had bonefish tailing everywhere in front of us. It is normally a great way to start a trip and get the client in the ‘zone’ and shake some of the rust off. After landing more than 10 bonefish each, we moved further down the channel and got to the mouth. A quick scan over the milky water and I spotted GT’s [giant trevally] with their backs out of the water waiting for the pushing tide to get some innocent little baitfish – well actually they come to feed on Bonefish and big Mullet. I have seen them engulf 8-10lb bonefish no problem. I lined up both my anglers.
Both anglers immediately hooked up on monster GT’s, but both anglers got a serious whipping and both fly lines lost. Quickly getting some new lines, leader and flies ready. They were instantly hooked into two fish, but they where a bit smaller and we landed both of them. We moved to the left of the flats at the channel mouth of the lagoon and saw a few more GT’s, we managed to land a couple smaller ones. By lunchtime we moved back up the channel and had a closer look all the way along the edge. It started suddenly and without warning; we had found a huge shoal of GT’s cruising around crushing everything in their path. We started hooking one after the other, but these fish were huge. At the end of the day we had landed 18 GT’s of which 8 of those were well over a meter (60lb-90lb) and 4 of them in the high 90’s. Considering that I was with only 2 clients, it was an epic day to say the least! I have landed over 4500 GT’s with clients now, but I will never forget that day.
What is the social side of guiding life like? I can’t imagine there were many bars or women around in Mongolia, although definitely an interesting array of clientele. How did you manage to chase your fishing dreams and find a wife willing to put up with you?
Haha, that is a very interesting question and something that could get me and many other guides around the world into a lot of trouble.
Take Mongolia for instance, Mongolians excel in wrestling even at an Olympic level, therefore you wouldn’t really want to get into a wrestling match with a local and you definitely should not mess with their women! Haha, but in saying that, there are always some of the guides who will always try their luck.
Imagine, being on a location in the middle of nowhere for anything up to 5 months with no form of communication with the outside world and the only things that change are your clients, the weather and the fishing.
So, once you get back to the real world, you have to be socialized all over again. We call it ‘sailor mentality’. You go to the first bar and just get ‘broken’ drunk with your fellow guides and most of the time it just ends up bad. Some of the guides also get what we call ‘bonefish eyes’, where they would just stare blankly at everyone and obviously mostly woman, now that is funny! A guides life, well as far as I know is not a very glamorous one. I spend most of my off time either with my wife, working on my filming and photography, or fishing. I have always wanted to do more in the industry and try and create more hype about our sport that we love so much.
Well, I met my wife in London in 2006 when I was working at a fly shop called Farlows. So I think she always knew what she signed up for and knew my love for fishing. She has always been so supportive and patient with everything. I know that I am tremendously lucky and that it is near impossible to do what I do and still be able to have a wife. In 2012, when I did 320 days guiding she also traveled with me to Norway and worked at the same lodge. Hey, she even caught a 12lb chrome Atlantic on her first run. Sometimes the time away also makes us appreciate each other more, and we would then have an awesome time when we are together again. We are fortunate enough to be able to travel together quite extensively and it is great seeing all these cool places together.
Tough question, but what is your all time favorite piece of water? Is there a particular fish that is most memorable to you?
That is a very difficult, almost impossible, question to answer, as every fish has a soft spot in my heart, and each of them have their own unique personality.
But let me try narrow it down, I think if you speak to anyone who has been to Seychelles and has experienced the brute force of the Gangster of the flats, they will agree it is Mr. GT!
I don’t know any other fish that will hit the fly with the sheer power that a GT will. Just imagine, you are walking along a flat, in the distance you see a shark, but something is different about this shark, what is that around it? A dozen sickle tails, holy sh*t! Those are all GTs. Ok let’s try and keep our cool and get into position, let’s head closer to the shark, what are you crazy? Trust me…. Ok just cast the fly in a 30x30ft radius of the gang of GT’s. Ok, nice, start stripping, strip, strip, strip, faster, strip…. F%$# they are all coming, strip….. Boom…… Hold on, turn the drag all the way….. How can you not just love that?! I mean, even as the fish takes the fly his whole head comes out and looks you straight in the eye, as if to say, this is mine, get your own!
I have to say that I also have huge respect for Indo Pacific Permit, but as with all Permit, we will not get into that whole emotional roller coaster. Damn, then there is the Aqua hulk, imagine fishing for tailing 25-90lb green monsters…
Not to even mention the monster Taimen in Mongolia smashing huge squirrel flies on the surface or angry Dorado in the Bolivian jungle just killing everything that comes in their way. Need I say more? Ok, I suppose I have to stick to only one fish, so I will move on now…. hahaha
Is there anywhere in the world you haven’t fished that you would like to?
- Congo – for giant Tarpon
- Guyana – Arapaima
- Tanzania – Tigerfish
- Amazon – Peacock Bass and all the other crazy fish
- Exmouth, Australia – Black Marlin on fly
- India – Masheer
(he’s headed there now)
What is Capt. Jack Films and how did you end up starting it? What about your work with Beattie Productions?
The dream originated in 2009, whilst guiding the notorious outer atolls of the Indian Ocean… there are really not many other jobs that will give you the amount of job satisfaction as guiding will give you. Being able to make a clients’ dream come true by catching a fish of a lifetime is an awesome feeling! But believe me, it is incredibly hard work. I worked extremely hard to become a successful guide and it was this realization that prompted me to want to start documenting our experiences on the water.
You always find yourself in a situation where you try and explain to people/guests what you have seen happen out there on the water. Most of the time they would look at you in disbelief. So I wanted to create a bit of awareness. The first time I saw a fly-fishing movie with soul, I was on a boat in the Seychelles and it was one of the first ‘Trout Bum Diaries’ and soon after that ‘Running down the man’. I started following the Drakemag film awards from the first one in 2006! That is what inspired me to start filming and show everyone what we, as guides, see on a daily basis… that is how Capt Jack Films started.
I really do appreciate all the support that I have had, but I still think that I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, when it comes to the filming, cinematography and editing. My work is really raw and I still just get so excited in the fishing moment, then I forget to film properly… haha! I have a lot of respect for the big production companies, like Beattie Outdoor… and a few others, there are just too many to mention. I think Beattie Outdoor has taken it to the next level and I am really privileged to be able to work with RA on various film collaborations.
Get the camera ready and then get ready for hard work. We definitely, work at it day and night.
I know you’ve been doing some work for the Thomas & Thomas rod company recently. Why T&T?
Well, all of us in the fishing industry know the brand Thomas & Thomas really well especially since they have been around for many years, since 1969 to be exact.
I met the new owner, Neville Orsmond, sometime back at an event. His passion for fly-fishing and the industry as a whole, really left an impression on me. T&T has always been a premium quality brand that has kept they’re brand proudly American – every single part of their rods are made and tested in the USA.
There are, of course, tons of competition in the Fly Fishing industry but as an international fly fishing guide, I am a lot more confident in chasing monster fish with gear that is not only hand-crafted to perfection, I am also able to personally contact the factory and designers to give feedback, and in so doing, ensure that the rods are continuously being improved.
Having been to the factory and seeing first-hand the amount of time and effort that is taken into making every rod, I am left with the confidence necessary when choosing a rod.
T&T approached me, and asked if they could send me a range of their new rods to test out in the Seychelles. We put the rods through as much stress as possible. I managed to land some monster GT and even a 140lbs Yellowfin Tuna, which took more than an hour and 30mins to land, with maximum pressure being applied. I bent the rod to the max, with all the guys on the boat hiding under the console waiting for it to explode, but it never did.
As I mentioned before, T&T is always been open to suggestions, as they are in constant pursuit of making not only the best rods in the world, but making rods that last a lifetime.
After my last stint in the Seychelles, it was an obvious yes when T&T approached me earlier this year to be one of their Brand Ambassadors for 2016.
What can Cpt. Jack Film fans expect for the next film?
Filming wise, at the moment the Fly Fishing Film Tour is in full swing and we have 3 movies on the tour. We have been making the rounds and we try to attend as many shows as we can. I think it’s important to attend and back these shows especially since we got to meet and know so many people that came out to support the films. It is just so amazing and we are really honored by all the encouragement from fans.
We definitely have some awesome projects lined up… to start off, I will shortly be releasing some short clips showcasing some awesome fishing!
Looking ahead to the future…. as mentioned previously, I have been working alongside RA Beattie, from Beattie Outdoor Productions, on the creation of a new production company called “Off the Grid Studios” (1963 Airstream trailer that is being rebuilt into a traveling studio).
It has been so great working with RA, he is a fantastic filmmaker and I am lucky to have him guide me. At this stage RA and myself have a lot of new projects in the works but unfortunately I can’t really let too much out of the bag just yet. But I can tell you that it is off the grid big time and will take the audience to some extreme places.
Then there are a few local projects in the pipeline, one of which we are honored to be a part of is Cast Hope, which teaches underprivileged children the art of fly-fishing, and we are busy working on a film to promote and create more awareness and gather support for such a worthy cause.
As you can hear, we are working hard on the filming side of things, but in between our guiding and our 9-5 jobs… filming and editing can be a bit of a slow process. To be able to make these crazy films, a lot of traveling and time behind the camera is required. Once that is done the editing process could take weeks. So it is always a super rewarding feeling when you see people enjoy your work.