Photos by: Will Graham
Over the past decade and a half, Jako Lucas has become a household name in the realm of fly fishing. Ever since he burst onto the public stage with his film “Gangsters of the Flats”, the South African has had a lasting impact on destination angling, fly fishing filmmaking, and social media. He’s even created a trend on social media named after him called “Jakoing“. He’s spent the majority of his career guiding around the world, most notably in the Seychelles, Norway, and Mongolia. While working as a 3-season guide, Jako managed to produce some of the most influential fly fishing films in the past several years.
Recently, he moved across the pond from his home country and has gotten to work building a name for himself guiding the Texas Coast and preaching the good word about an undersung species, the Jack Crevalle. We popped down to Texas with Jako shortly after Hurricane Ida hit Lousiana to experience his fishery and spend some time with the legend himself.
Check out our Behind the Guides Interview with Jako below!
Flylords: In the last few years, you’ve settled into a more permanent fishery along the Texas coast. How does your current situation compare to your previous experiences?
Jako: So, I mean, there are definitely pros and cons. Because if you travel a lot, you’re fortunate enough to see some amazing locations, and you always kind of miss all those places. I mean, I miss Mongolia and Norway and this would be the first year that I haven’t been to Seychelles. There’s absolutely a part of me that misses it, but having spent so much time on the road, it’s kind of refreshing being able to guide where I’m able to spend time with my family, my wife, and the dogs (Bella and Sinatra). I can be close to them and can still focus on the fishing and clients. Being home in Austin, I’m able to get the best of both worlds. I can spend time with my wife and I can still be on the water for as much as possible.
I’ve also enjoyed discovering a new-to-me fishery. I mean, it’s still going to take me a hell of a long time to get to know the spot, which is kind of exciting. It’s a very exciting, big, expansive piece of water that I’m guiding on. And it’s just nice figuring it out, meeting some of the people, and investing in a community. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved all the locations that I’ve guided at. But it’s nice to finally own my own skiff and my own outfitting business where I can book my clients and run my own operation. It’s been an awesome adventure. I mean, I can’t say that I don’t miss the other places, but definitely love what I’m doing now.
Flylords: Why Texas? What brought you down to the Lone Star State?
Jako: Several years ago, my wife and I moved to Massachusetts to do some consulting work at Thomas & Thomas and spent a couple of months there. But the cold weather hit and the first snow fell, we were decided to bounce the heck out of it. Luckily, I got invited by some good friends to come to one of the Fly Fishing Film Tour showings in Austin, TX. Joe Cooley and the folks from YETI asked me to come to one of their film tour events. We had a great time and I really liked Austin. When I got home, I told my wife, so, I mean, if we’ve to buy a house and move to the US, Austin is really the place that I think we’ll have a great time settling down.
My next move was definitely to find out how I could spend time in the water and guide and do what I do for a living, even in Austin. Then I met some of the Austin crew, like spoke to JT Van Zandt and all those guys. And after speaking to JT and Alvin Dedeaux, I very quickly realized that there are opportunities to guide the Texas Coast.
I still had to go through all the usual stuff involved with becoming a captain in US waters. I had to redo all my USCG captain’s licenses and go through all the legal hoops to work in the US, buy a skiff, and get my business set up.
But I worked hard at it, and it’s all been well worth it. That’s how I ended up here. I explored a few different spots along the TX coast and I just found this little spot that I really liked that offers not only the general redfishing, but also offer some bigger fish stuff, which is like my definitely an attractive point for me.
Flylords: What’s been the reaction of locals and local Texas guides been to your presence on the coast?
Jako: It’s kind of been funny. I definitely think there were a few guys that probably felt a little bit threatened, but not from a guiding perspective because the guides out here are amazing and some of them have been out here for 20-plus years.
After speaking to JT and Alvin and other guides, I sent a message to the local guides that I knew were spending a lot of time in this area and just introduced myself, told them that I’m a fishing guide and that I was planning on making a living out here, out of respect.
I know I’ll earn my respect here, and I don’t expect anybody to be completely happy about it. Because I know they’ve been out there for a long time and grinding it out longer than I have. But, I tried to enter the fiery the right way. And it seems like everybody’s been pretty happy. In fact, one of the guides still, from the very first day, has assumed I’m from Australia and I’ll probably let him think that forever.
But all in all, everybody’s been awesome. I really tried to do it the right way. And not just burst in and start making movies and going crazy over this place. I think it’s a very special fishery and we need to look after it.
Flylords: What does it take to learn this new fishery? Have you had local mentors that have shown you how things work here or has it been more of a “bootstrapping” experience?
Jako: 90% of it was definitely just grinding it out, figuring out the maps, looking at tides, discovering how the whole system works, because it’s a vast piece of water. I did have some good help. Some good insight and help from a buddy of mine, Noah Thompson, which was kind enough to show me around a little bit and give me some inside info and tips, as he’s been fishing out here for a long time. Other than that it’s been mostly hard work and determination.
Starting out, I was quietly scouting with my skiff, riding around, trying to just look at where the water comes in on the pushing tide. How this place looks like on the falling tide or like just riding around trying to figure out the puzzle.
The majority of the time, even when we guiding, we’re still spending time looking for fishing and not catching. So, that’s kind of part of the process. But if you put together all the pieces of the places I’ve guided, start working really hard, and think about how a specific fishery works. It’s not super hard, but you’ve always got to learn. I mean, we mentioned it on the boat. You never going to have that point where you think, “Okay. I know it all.”
That’s what really excites me about the fishery because there’s a heck of a lot to learn.
Flylords: We’ve been targeting black drum, redfish, bull reds, and jack crevalle with you. Which of those is your favorite, and why?
Jako: I suppose it varies based on the part of the season. I love seeing a tailing red with his back up out of the water and casting a fly at him. All that visual stimulation that you get and the pure excitement of sight fishing. Although, it’s hard for me to say that, as I’m absolutely addicted to GT fishing. But when I discovered a place where I could target a similar species, the Jack Crevalle, and still be very close to home I was in. I mean, we get some incredible fish out here, but that ferociousness of these fish just really gets me charged up. I mean, I get overly excited when I see those things bust on bait piles, and I go crazy when it really starts going nuts while we’re running-and-gunning and witnessing those fish being so savage.
All the fish here have their unique traits. If my clients are happy to catch it and I’m happy to go for it. Mostly if it eats a fly, we are happy to go for it.
We’re lucky to have a year-round red fishery. So even when it’s cold outside, you’ve got the opportunity to fish for reds in crystal-clear water. So, that’s cool. There’s a lot of fish diversity on the Texas Coast.
Flylords: You mentioned your love for Jacks and you’ve been teasing us a little bit about this upcoming Jack film you’re working on. What can you tell us about it?
Jako: It’s been coming for quite a long time… About two years in the making now. But we finally are getting to the point where we hopefully will have the movie out next year. I’m hoping this film brings the Jack Crevalle onto the same pedestal as the GT. I was very happy to introduce the fly fishing world to Giant Trevally. We really want people to see what Jacks can do all around the world. I mean, anglers in the US are not always able to travel to all these places and people might not have the same amount of money to go to Seychelles. But they’ve neglected this one species that’s on their doorstep that does exactly what a GT does. Maybe they don’t grow as big, but I think they’re very similar in strength. I mean, I think a Jack on a good day can show a GT a thing or two. And they right here. For some reason, from the first day I started guiding here, people just kept on saying to me now they’re trash fish and how they don’t want to fish for them. I just couldn’t understand that because, from the first time a client cast at one of them, it became immediately apparent that Jacks are an insane game fish.
With this movie, we just want to kind of bring it out to people and just show them these fish are cool. The movie will show it, we’re going to put GTs and jack side-by-side and show people that you get that same fix in the US or on the west coast of Africa, or in Costa Rica, hell you can catch them everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico, the list goes on and on. The opportunities are everywhere to fish for them, and I just don’t think they’ve had the spotlight that they deserve.
Flylords: Tell us more about your love affair with the Jack Crevalle? Do they act similar to the GTs you pursued in Seychelles?
Jako: I think the appealing thing with GTs is that you can get them on pure white sand flats. I wouldn’t say that I can find Jack’s doing what they do in Seychelles on flats here, with their fins out, hunting fish and seeing them in pretty shallow water. But for the most part, what we’re looking for is specific areas where they feed and kind of gang up on baitfish. And you’ll have these big boiling blitzes.
If GTs are the gangsters of the flat, Jacks are like gangsters of the deep.
When you see a jack chasing a baitfish, it’s a savage experience. I mean, that baitfish has very little to no chance of escaping, and that’s kind of a cool thing. It’s weird how that when we watch a predatory fish like a Jack, we’re never really on the side of the weaker baitfish. We always want to see that fish eaten. Here, everything about them is just adrenaline-packed. That’s the thing I love about Jacks and hopefully, we can get that across in the film. Jacks are definitely one of my biggest day savers. Because if I can start the day with Jack fishing, we’ve started off on a good foot.
Flylords: So what’s next for Jako Lucas after this film is wrapped?
Jako: Honestly, through everything I still do, being on the water, here, guiding people into fish is still, 100% my favorite thing to do. I’m quite busy proving and developing my outfitting business here on the Texas coast. I’m building a place here so I can host the clients and create some sort of a little bit of a community here in town and just be a little bit more involved.
I’m starting to do more destination trips with clients, some of which are high on my personal bucket list. I have a trip at Untamed Xingu Lodge, coming up in a few weeks along with a few other jungle trips in South America. Then I’m heading to try and catch a Striped Marlin on the fly in Mag Bay, then I’ll be chasing an Afrikaans permit.
I’m still trying to push myself to go and see some cool places around the world. But I have to say I’m very comfortable having my own little business here and being close to my wife so we can spend more time together.
I think that people forget sometimes when destination guides like myself are out at these exotic locations. As much fun as it is, you’re very lonely. The only people you communicate with is your fellow guides and clients. And you’re very far removed from the world. You don’t know what’s going on in the news. Most guys don’t have really technically have girlfriends. I was very lucky that my wife stuck around, and I’m very blessed to be with her.
Our fly fishing industry has grown quite a bit actually during this strange time, especially in North America. And there are pros and cons to it because there’s definitely a lot of pressure on fisheries. But I think we need to give people the opportunity to enjoy the sport.
On a more personal note, I’d really like to learn how I can help improve and look after this fishery here on the Texas Coast. Like I said, still I’m cutting my teeth in this fishery. So I don’t want to start flexing to other people that I’m this legendary guide here in Texas. I still want to earn people’s respect before I start working. We’ve been talking with Capt. Benny Blanco about coming into this area with Captains For Clean Water to see what improvements we can do over here. So that will be pretty cool. Other than that I’ll be here growing my little Fly Religion business and keeping on truckin’!
Flylords: What are your go-to Costa frames these days?
Jako: I have been wearing the Santiago’s from Costa’s Untangled collection. Not only are they great frames for long days on the water, but they’re made from recycled fishing nets!