Coming from a storied South African fly fishing family, Yuri Janssen was never going to be shackled to a desk 24/7 and his CV (Lesotho, Russia, Central African Republic) shows as much. In his current role as Head of Adventure at The Gleneagles Hotel (gleneagles.com) in Scotland, he took a moment out from catching brown trout on the River Spey to tell us about his life, go-to libations, and the love he has for home.
The first fishing experience I remember was fishing for bluegills and red breasted tilapia in an irrigation dam near Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal. I was using a homemade bamboo fishing rod, float, split shot, and worm. My brother and I used to spend our summer holidays with our great aunt from Scotland who had access to several bass dams in the coffee plantations. Although I cannot remember it, I’ve been told my first fish was in a lagoon on the South Coast not far from Ramsgate.
My first real job after leaving school was running a small hunting camp in Pilanesberg National Park up in the North West province. From there I moved on to the world-renowned Mala Mala Game Reserve, where I worked as a game ranger and camp manager for three years. I had a four-year interlude as a student in Aberdeen, followed by three seasons in Russia. I flew to the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia which was to become my seasonal base for the next three seasons, while spending my winters living in New York. After Russia, there was a brief pause from fishing while helping my family open a restaurant, coffee shop and deli in Cheshire. Then it was back to South Africa where I joined Keith Clover during the early days of Tourette Fishing, guiding in Tanzania, the Okavango, Lesotho, the Tugela at Zingela, the Pongola River, and Sterkfontein. The next several years were spent working throughout a large chunk of sub-Saharan Africa as a photographer and filmmaker, until 2017 when I returned to Scotland to join The Gleneagles Hotel running their outdoor and country pursuits.
Although I now live on the River Earn, a small Scottish sea trout and autumn-run salmon river, I spend most of my time exploring highland streams and hill lochs for native brown trout. In South Africa, growing up, my backyard home waters included the uMzimkhulu, uMzimkhuluwana and Polela rivers in Underberg and several high-altitude streams up in southern Lesotho, not far from where we lived. In the late 80s, while attending a primary school fly fishing clinic, I met the renowned author and photographer Wolf Avni. Somehow, I managed to crack an open invitation to fish Goschen Lake (KwaZulu-Natal) at Giants Cup, a picture-perfect trout paradise that most kids our age only ever dreamed about. The condition was that I helped Wolf in the trout hatchery each morning. After lunch I was free to fish to my heart’s content. While success was acknowledged, Wolf instilled in me the value of blank days, keen observation, and always remaining curious.
Although I love to fish lighter, slower-actioned rods, my favourite all-round- go-to rod is a Sage XP 9’ 5-weight built in the late 90s which, in my opinion, is one of the best rods Sage ever produced. When conditions permit, I’m a big fan of old-school bamboo rods, which are pure joy to cast and fish. If money was no object, I’d commission someone to build me a full armoury of bamboo rods.
The most satisfying fish I ever caught was a 9lb 8oz New Zealand South Island brown caught in a very tricky situation. It was only landed by incredible teamwork between my brother Marcus, who spotted the take, and our salt-of-the-earth fly fishing guide, Ian Cole, who expertly netted it as the hook straightened and the fish rolled about in the shallows. Marcus and I had talked about hunting big South Island browns together when we were little boys and so it was an incredibly emotional moment. You can see every bit of it in the photograph.
I think there are a few instances when fishermen should be forgiven for lying. While I’m all for making fly fishing more accessible, sharing tips, and giving advice, I feel that disclosing sensitive fishing locations is certainly one example when it’s OK to tell a white lie, especially when your guide has specifically asked for the location to remain a secret.
Read the rest of Yuri’s Lifer in issue 40. It’s free!