The world’s great­est fish­er­man

He’s rated as the most suc­cess­ful big-game an­gler of all time

Sea Angler (UK) - - Contents - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by Dave Lewis

Meet an amaz­ingly suc­cess­ful big-game an­gler.

My dic­tio­nary de­fines the word ‘char­ac­ter’ thus: ‘qual­ity of be­ing in­di­vid­ual, typ­i­cally in an in­ter­est­ing or un­usual way’ or ‘strength and orig­i­nal­ity in a per­son’s na­ture’. Zyg Gre­gorek is a char­ac­ter in the truest sense of these def­i­ni­tions.

‘Ziggy’ meets all of the above cri­te­ria per­fectly, and then some. Within a very short time of meet­ing him you re­alise this jovial man truly is one of the great char­ac­ters in the world of sport fish­ing.

Born in Karachi, Pak­istan, to Pol­ish par­ents, Ziggy’s early child­hood was spent in Kenya, Uganda and Tan­za­nia, which was then called Tan­ganyika. He can trace his com­plex blood­line back to some of the royal houses of Europe and, not sur­pris­ingly, by a young age he was flu­ent in nu­mer­ous lan­guages, some­thing that, in more re­cent years, has proved to be of con­sid­er­able ad­van­tage.

Colo­nial East Africa was an ex­cit­ing place to grow up for an ad­ven­tur­ous young­ster with a fas­ci­na­tion of the out­doors, and Ziggy can re­count story after story about his many ad­ven­tures dur­ing his early years ex­plor­ing the bush. He can vividly re­count plenty of tales in­volv­ing close en­coun­ters with Africa’s big game, in­clud­ing lions and hip­pos, but one of his clos­est brushes with dan­ger in­volved a fish. And we are not talk­ing about man-eat­ing sharks or back­break­ing bill­fish here, it was a hum­ble mud skip­per that very nearly cost him his life.

Rather than use rod and line, in his for­ma­tive years as a fish­er­man Ziggy pre­ferred the lo­cal ap­proach; and in East Africa that meant catch­ing fish with a home­made spear. In good hands that’s an ef­fec­tive tech­nique, yes, but a tech­nique which one day re­sulted in the young lad be­com­ing dan­ger­ously and al­most hope­lessly stuck in quick sand, with the tide rapidly flood­ing the man­grove swamps he had been stalk­ing. With great dif­fi­culty, Ziggy man­aged to free him­self, but the look in his eyes as he re­told this story clearly dis­plays just how close to dis­as­ter he came.


Even­tu­ally, the fam­ily re­lo­cated to the UK. Ziggy went to gram­mar school near Lech­lade on the banks of the River Thames, but fish­ing took a back­seat for a while as he en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced other chal­lenges of youth, much of which ap­pears to be fo­cused in the grounds of the neigh­bour­ing girls’ school.

Ziggy has led an event­ful life, and many suc­cess­ful years sell­ing in­sur­ance re­sulted in be­ing able to pur­chase An­glers Par­adise in Devon in the 1980s. The fish­ery then

con­sisted of five chalets and one lake, though over the years Ziggy used his skill as an en­tre­pre­neur to de­velop this pop­u­lar coarse fish­ing com­plex into one of the most suc­cess­ful hol­i­day re­sorts in the south-west of Eng­land.

To­day, guests stay in one of the 38 lux­ury chalets, and have the choice of fish­ing more than 30 well-stocked lakes for a wide range of dif­fer­ent species. An­glers Par­adise now cov­ers 250 acres, and is also home to Ziggy’s fa­mous African Bar, as well as his win­ery, where he pro­duces more than 2,000 gal­lons of wine a year; he calls it his five o’clock of­fice.


De­spite a life­time that has of­ten cen­tered around fish, fish­ing and fish­er­man, you might be sur­prised to know that while, to­day, Ziggy Gre­gorek is widely re­garded as be­ing one of the most suc­cess­ful big-game an­glers of all time, he was a late starter. Prior to his 60th birth­day, he had yet to catch a mar­lin.

Now he has fished all over the world, and in do­ing so has caught all of big-game fish­ing’s iconic species; a feat for which he has earned international recog­ni­tion.

The International Game Fish­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (IGFA) is re­garded as be­ing the global au­thor­ity on sport fish­ing, in­clud­ing the au­then­ti­ca­tion and record­ing of world records in both salt and fresh water. In ad­di­tion, IGFA presents var­i­ous cov­eted slam cer­tifi­cates, which it awards for no­table catches of the premier species of game­fish within var­i­ous cat­e­gories.

These cat­e­gories in­clude Grand Slams, awarded for catch­ing three dif­fer­ent species of qual­i­fy­ing game fish in a sin­gle day, along with Su­per Slams and Fan­tasy Slams for catch­ing four and five species re­spec­tively, again in a sin­gle day’s fish­ing.

Per­haps the most pres­ti­gious is mem­ber­ship to the as­so­ci­a­tion’s var­i­ous Royal Slam Clubs. To qual­ify for one of these, an­glers must catch all recog­nised species listed within that rel­e­vant club cat­e­gory, which, for bill­fish and shark, in­cludes nine species, and eight species for tuna. Ziggy is one of only two an­glers who have qual­i­fied for all three of the salt­wa­ter Royal Slams, the other is an­other Bri­tish an­gler, the late De­nis Froud.

Ziggy has ac­tu­ally com­pleted not one, but two of each of these Royal Slams. So far, he’s the only an­gler to do so, and is well on the way to be­ing the first an­gler in the world to com­plete three Bill­fish Royal Slams.


Fur­ther, he is the only an­gler to re­ceive an Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment Award from the IGFA for catch­ing not nine, but 10 species of bill­fish, hav­ing re­cently caught a rare Mediter­ranean spearfish in Greece, along with both At­lantic and Pa­cific blue mar­lin and sail­fish, black, striped and white mar­lin, short­bill spearfish and broad­bill sword fish.

Ziggy’s first Royal Slam also in­cluded a long­bill spearfish, mean­ing in to­tal he has caught a stag­ger­ing 11 species of bill­fish, all on lures. That’s a truly amaz­ing achieve­ment.

“My first bill­fish was a sail­fish I caught in 1989 aboard Snow­goose, one of the fa­mous King­fisher fleet oper­at­ing out of Malindi in Kenya. After this I be­came very in­ter­ested in big-game fish­ing, and espe­cially mar­lin fish­ing, and it was dur­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day in Mau­ri­tius that I first set out to catch one,” he said.

“I booked a day’s fish­ing aboard a small lo­cal boat, but on this oc­ca­sion was not suc­cess­ful with mar­lin. How­ever, I did catch my first fish over 100lb, a huge 104lb wa­hoo...that fish over there,” he told me, point­ing to an im­pres­sive mount of said wa­hoo dis­played in a glass case hang­ing in pride of place over the fire­place in the African Bar where we were talk­ing.

“I caught plenty of other great fish dur­ing my first few trips to Mau­ri­tius, in­clud­ing sev­eral big tuna and sharks, and my first short­bill spearfish. This fish weighed 70lb and al­most cer­tainly broke the then ex­ist­ing 30lb-class world record for the species but, un­for­tu­nately, we were un­able to ver­ify it due to a tech­ni­cal­ity; I had not re­tained a sam­ple of the line that we had used,’ he ex­plained with ob­vi­ous re­gret.

“I ac­tu­ally caught my first mar­lin in Madeira in 1998, fish­ing with Capt Frank Perry. We had been fish­ing for a long time and things had been very slow, but by this time I had de­vel­oped a lit­tle rit­ual whereby I would sing a lit­tle song: “One to the sea and one to Ziggy”, and then throw a glass of my home­made wine into the sea. Of course, ev­ery­one on board thought I was crazy, but the look on their faces soon changed when al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards we had our first strike, which re­sulted in a 300lb At­lantic blue mar­lin.

“I also caught my sec­ond species of spearfish, a long­bill spearfish. Then, the fol­low­ing day, I caught an 800lb blue mar­lin. The fish put on a mag­nif­i­cent aerial dis­play right in front of the de­lighted passengers throng­ing the deck of the Queen Elizabeth II, which was pass­ing very close by on its way into port.”

He con­tin­ued: “By now I was firmly hooked on mar­lin and fish­ing reg­u­larly in Mau­ri­tius where, in those days, the Mar­lin World Cup

was held, and in 1999 I en­tered this pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion. Well, my run of luck con­tin­ued and I won the event with a 300lb Pa­cific blue mar­lin, along with a huge 120lb dog­tooth tuna thrown in for good mea­sure. ‘Be­gin­ner’s luck,’ a lot of peo­ple said, and, of course, luck al­ways pays a big part in all as­pects of an­gling.

“Any­way, I en­tered the fol­low­ing the year and caught a lovely blue mar­lin es­ti­mated be­tween 300-400lb. Of course, this is not a very big mar­lin, but I had de­cided to use 50lb­class tackle rather than the 80lb or 130lb most other an­glers were us­ing, in or­der to max­imise upon the points scor­ing sys­tem. It was a good de­ci­sion, and I be­came the first per­son ever to win the World Cup in two suc­ces­sive years.”


By now Ziggy was trav­el­ling the world ex­ten­sively to fish. A trip to Can­cun, Mex­ico, pro­duced his first At­lantic sail­fish, while a trip to The Azores re­sulted in a white mar­lin, and a sec­ond trip to Kenya added both striped mar­lin and the elu­sive broad­bill sword­fish. All Ziggy needed to com­plete his first IGFA Royal Slam was a black mar­lin, and this hap­pened dur­ing a trip to the Bazaruto ar­chi­pel­ago, Mozam­bique; Bill­fish Royal Slam num­ber one was in the bag.

While Ziggy had been ac­tively trav­el­ling the globe in an at­tempt to com­plete his first Bill­fish Royal Slam, his by-catch of other species meant he was now within strik­ing dis­tance of com­plet­ing both the shark and tuna Royal Slams, and these be­came his next goal.

Pre­vi­ous trips had re­sulted in catch­ing tope, ham­mer­head, por­bea­gle, blue, tiger, whaler sharks, and a trip to San Diego pro­duced his first mako and thresher sharks, and so his first Shark Royal Slam was com­plete.

Like­wise, Ziggy had al­ready racked up catches of big­eye, black­fin, bluefin, dog­tooth, skip­jack, long­tail and yel­lowfin tuna, and a trip to Tas­ma­nia pro­duced the fi­nal species, the south­ern bluefin, mean­ing Ziggy was the first an­gler ever to qual­ify for the Tuna Royal Slam.

Many an­glers would have been con­tent with these mag­nif­i­cent achieve­ments; not Ziggy. Hav­ing com­pleted the three off­shore Royal Slams once, he im­me­di­ately set about com­plet­ing them all a sec­ond time, and suc­ceeded. To­day he is the only an­gler in his­tory to have achieved this with bill­fish and both the shark and tuna slams. Fur­ther, at the time of writ­ing, Ziggy re­quires only an­other broad­bill sword­fish to com­plete Bill­fish Royal Slam num­ber three and if, or I should say when, he achieves this, he will be the first per­son to com­plete a Bill­fish Royal Slam with a Mediter­ranean spearfish as part of the list.


Zyg Gre­gorek is not only in­ter­ested in com­plet­ing Royal Slams; far from it. He has caught a stag­ger­ing five dif­fer­ent species of fish over 1,000lb: a 1,300lb six gill shark from As­cen­sion Is­land, 1,300lb great white shark from South Africa, 1,100lb tiger shark from Aus­tralia, 1,000lb Green­land or sleeper shark from Nor­way, and a 1,000lb bluefin tuna from Canada, for which he has re­ceived yet an­other Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment award from the IGFA. Ziggy also caught a 1,000lb tiger shark at As­cen­sion Is­land, so he has caught 1,000lb tigers in both the At­lantic and Pa­cific Oceans, the first an­gler in his­tory to achieve this.

Re­cently, he was in­vited to Pak­istan for a spe­cial pre­sen­ta­tion in his hon­our, dur­ing which the Pak­istan Game Fish­ing As­so­ci­a­tion pre­sented him with a Life­time Achieve­ment Award.

Per­haps the great­est en­dorse­ment of Ziggy’s many achieve­ments in the world of salt­wa­ter game fish­ing was given by the IGFA pres­i­dent, Rob Kramer who de­scribed him as be­ing “to­tally unique’’, and la­belling him as “the world’s great­est fish­er­man’’.

Kramer went on to add: “There are many awards out there for fish­er­men, and any­one can throw in a line, get lucky, and pull out a record-break­ing fish, but this is some­thing else. To achieve one Royal Slam is im­pres­sive, but to get all three is un­heard of. He is the first, and maybe the last. These awards re­ally are con­sid­ered the big one - the Holy Grail. They are spec­tac­u­lar, trav­el­ling to ex­otic places and chas­ing a spe­cific species of fish. It is not about luck, you have to re­search, to know ex­actly where to go, and when.

“Zyg is a char­ac­ter, and by def­i­ni­tion he is the world’s great­est fish­er­man.’’

“One Royal Slam

is im­pres­sive, three un­heard of”

Big-game­fish models adorn the walls as tes­ta­ment to Ziggy’s amaz­ing global achieve­ments

A large ham­mer­head shark hangs from the ceil­ing in the African Bar at An­glers’ Par­adise

Ziggy tak­ing a break from his hec­tic sched­ule in his ‘five o’clock of­fice’...his win­ery, where he pro­duces more than 2,000 gal­lons of wine a year Tackle and fish mounts fill all avail­able space The fa­mous African Bar at An­glers Par­adise, a le­gacy of...

Ziggy is one of the most suc­cess­ful big-game an­glers of all time, with the mem­o­ra­bilia to prove it

Ziggy’s first Royal Slam in­cluded a long­bill spearfish – he has caught 11 species of bill­fish on lures

Ziggy has com­pleted two of each of the Royal Slams, and will most likely be­come the first an­gler in the world to com­plete three Bill­fish Royal Slams

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