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Growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa with a hardcore angler for a father, fishing always played a huge part in the life of Simms Ambassador, Jako Lucas. From an early age, he knew there was no other career for him. Over the years, Lucas has earned the reputation in some of the world’s most legendary fresh and salt water destinations as the go-to guide for consistently putting clients on the fish of their lifetime. It’s safe to say that presently, Jako is completely dialed, but — his career didn’t start off that way. So, the question remains — how did a 20 something year old kid with virtually no guiding experience get the nod to work in locations most of us only dream of? The short answer; he’s one of the fishiest guys on the planet. For the full story, read on.
In the Beginning
Between school, sports and being a teenager, Jako fished as much as he possibly could but as the years passed, everything eventually took the back seat to fishing.
By the end of high school, Lucas ultimately knew what he wanted to do. However, as tempting as it was to snatch up his diploma and jump head first into a career as an independent guide, Jako diligently opted to attend the University of Johannesburg. With a marketing degree in hand, he secured a job at Farlows, the renowned fly shop located in London. It was here that his career would finally start to veer into the direction he always hoped for. “I was lucky to get my first guide gig. It started with a chance encounter with a total stranger.” says Jako “While in London, I saw a man wearing a fishing shirt. Being that I was interested in anything related to fishing, I began talking to him about what he did and learned about a whole new world I knew nothing about in terms of guiding.”
The man was Keith Rose-Innes, a guide with a long-standing reputation in the Seychelles. During their chat, Jako expressed his interest in guiding and in short order, Keith ran through a checklist of all the things he needed to do to make it happen. Two years later, Jako checked all the boxes and promptly gave Keith a call asking for work. Jako flew to South Africa for an interview and a week later he received a call from Keith who said “I need you to go to the Seychelles.” The only problem — at the time, Jako was completely green and had zero guide days under his belt. Not to mention, his only experience with any of the species he’d soon be guiding for was what he had read in magazines or seen in films.
Trial By Fire
The first day of any new job comes with its own set of unique stresses and challenges but in the case of Jako, arriving in arguably the world’s best salt water fishery, he wasn’t exactly waltzing into an entry level position. Most guides working for Keith had three to four weeks to shadow guide which is essentially following a veteran guide around to learn spots, tides and fish habits. Jako’s onboarding lasted a total of three days. “Being in the Seychelles for the first time was like a dream. Those first three days, we targeted bonefish. For some of the clients, those were the first bonefish they had ever seen in person and likewise for me. The head guides must have recognized my determination because after three days, they asked me to take some clients out on my own. I’ll never forget that first day. Before lunch, we landed 43 bones, which was obviously amazing. From there, my confidence started to build and soon enough, I was chasing all the typical species found in the Seychelles.”
Grip and grin
Man of mystery
A Freshwater Promotion
On one hand, it might be easy to assume that anybody could excel in a short period of time guiding in a place like the Seychelles. After all, with its remote location, lack of pressure and variety of species, the Seychelles is an unbelievable fishery to say the least. However, what about a completely different environment and cliental? Once again, being in the right place at the right time paid off. Capitalizing on a sudden hole in a guide staff, Jako found himself in route to Norway to guide for Atlantic salmon.
“Guiding in Norway was a little bit intimidating because I was coming from the Seychelles where it’s just absolute insanity in the middle of nowhere. Atlantic salmon fishing is more of a gentlemen’s sport — tweed coats, spey casting and definitely quality vs. quantity.” says Jako. If you’ve ever been privileged enough to fish with Jako, one thing you’ll likely agree on is his drive. It’s his drive and confidence that has allowed him to take his guiding to the next level. “Any new place is a little intimidating but honestly, I’ve never accepted a job that I wasn’t sure I could figure out quickly. If there’s one thing I thrive on as a guide, it’s the challenge. Cracking the code in new water is what drives me. I’m a firm believer in confidence and one of my philosophies is, no matter what, I always do whatever I can too keep my client’s confidence level high and that’s a huge key to success and also makes my job easier when the client feels like they are with the right guide to get it done.”
Humble confidence is something Jako isn’t short on. For example, his first day in Norway, he was invited to his boss’s house which as luck would have it, was right on the water. “I’ll never forget it. While barbequing and just hanging out, I was asked to grab a spey rod, walk down to the river and make a few casts. “I tell you, I had a sinking feeling because that was the first time I ever picked up a two-handed rod. I went down, flailed around and I’m sure it was ugly but somehow I managed to get some line out. On my fourth attempt of a cast, I actually hooked and landed a fish. I guarantee you, nobody was more surprised than me.”
Entering the Western World
As if the challenge of guiding for Atlantic salmon in Norway wasn’t enough, once again, Jako found himself with an offer he couldn’t refuse guiding in one of the most remote locales on the planet for a species that defines elusive. While guiding Dan Vermillion of Sweetwater Travel Company and Ben Pierce in the Seychelles, Ben hooked a massive bumphead parrotfish. After fighting it for a while, the fish surged and wrapped itself around a coral head. The tired and tangled fish drew the attention of several uncomfortably large sharks. Instead of losing the fish, without missing a beat, Jako asked Dan to hold his gear. Against Dan’s pleads; Jako swam towards the coral head, parrotfish and the sharks. “I didn’t want to lose it or let the sharks get it. Dan kept saying ‘it’s not worth it, it’s not worth it’ but I jumped in anyways. I freed the line and eventually, Ben landed the fish. Dan must have seen something because he asked me to come guide for him in the Mongolia for taimen.
Of all the destinations Jako has guided, Mongolia stands out as the one that was the most nerve-wracking. Almost immediately upon his arrival to the camp, Jako piled into a jet sled with a couple experienced taimen guides and took off down river to scope out the beat he’d be fishing — the next day — with clients. “In Mongolia, you are talking about a fish that is extremely elusive and I really had no idea what to expect. We went down the beat, and then drove back, that was all the training I had. The next day, I met with my clients and not only had I never fished for taimen before, that was the first day I ever ran a jet sled.” says Jako “I just took it slow, pool by pool and on day three, one of my clients landed a 54” fish. That was the confidence boost I was searching for and from there, I just began chipping away at little intricacies of the fishery and learned it.”
All of us can more than likely agree, there are great anglers and there are great anglers who are innately “fishy”. Jako undoubtedly falls into the latter category. Now a seasoned pro, his story should be a lesson to all of us. With a can do attitude, a desire to listen and learn and remaining confident no matter how difficult fishing and/or conditions get, you can accomplish great things on the water. With all the locations Jako has mastered, in his mind, his resume is far from complete. So, when you book your next bucket list trip to the world’s next best destination and find out Jako is your guide — rest assured, you’re in good hands, even if your first time in that location is also his first.