The world’s greatest fisherman
He’s rated as the most successful big-game angler of all time
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.
CHALLENGES OF YOUTH
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.
TRULY AMAZING ACHIEVEMENT
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”
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 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’s youth growing up in Africa
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 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