JAN OF ALL TRADES and Master of All by Jeff Lytle

Dos Equis beer commercials used to feature “the most interesting man in the world” — with exotic, made-up credentials. If that ad campaign ever gets a reboot, a retired Naples surgeon would be an ideal star – and all of the credentials would be true.

A sampling of Dr. Jan Forszpaniak’s resumé includes: world champion fisherman, global fish researcher, fervent conservationist, python hunter, speaker of six languages (and dabbler in six more), multitasking musician, painter, sculptor and cook – in addition to 45 years as a doctor, specializing in breast cancer surgery for 25 years in Naples.

Now 70 and living in Pelican Bay, he explains he stepped aside from the profession he loved in 2018 because of ailments in both hands that caused occasional involuntary movements. Yet, that door closing became a passport to so many experiences around the world. He does not just read about exotic fish; he travels around the world to study and catch them, taking small samples of tissue for analysis and tracking. He also does some teaching to natives about how to sustain and extend fisheries, for ethical as well as commercial reasons.

Forszpaniak has fished in Greenland, Scandinavia, Brazil, Peru, Tasmania, Russia, South Africa, Zambia, New Guinea, Gilbert’s Archipelago, Christmas Island, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Turks and Caicos, New Caledonia and more.

At his accomplished level, the terminology can require a dictionary and locales can send seasoned travelers reaching for an atlas. One International Game Fish Association article, written by Forszpaniak, tells of a quest for taimen – giant trout – in Siberia in Russia’s Far East, “a wild, hauntingly beautiful, bountiful and nearly untouched sport fishing destination” that includes the Limuri River.

Alongside technical data about fish weights, sizes and tackle – the bible to anglers at this level — there are colorful anecdotes about encountering “five scary-looking men who told us they were digging for gold,” and: “Tents were comfortable; the menu included fire-roasted local game such as moose and boar – even caviar – and there was plenty of vodka.”

His passion started early in his native Poland. Grandparents had a ranch with a pond of carp, which he would dissect as a forerunner of later real-life surgical skills. He also remembers seeing fish elsewhere killed by careless industrial pollution.

Forszpaniak took to heart a grandfatherly admonition to be the best at what you pursue. He studied medicine and came to New York to sharpen skills. He moved to the Florida Keys, then Naples, to practice medicine and fish. His medical legacy with patients is using maximum technology and minimum trauma via surgery and chemotherapy

He is proud of taking part in breast cancer seminars with leading international doctors and now is pleased to be part of conservation seminars for policymakers — and children – around the world. His message is fundamental: If you want to keep fish and an environment for them to thrive, conservation is a must. The International Game Fish Association, for which Forszpaniak is a 118 time record-holder and ambassador, has the stature to conduct its own field research and call out violators, such as China, which he says poaches neighboring fisheries.

“To amass the accomplishments that he has in less than 10 years is astounding …,” comments fishing writer Bob McNally, who is published nationally. “He’s well-grounded in the love of the sport, and the desire to show what IGFA and fishing are all about in remote regions where such things are rarely at the forefront.”

Looking forward, Forszpaniak’s to-do list includes:
Learning the violin, writing books on bonefish and cooking, becoming a sommelier and recording an album of music with Naples-based arranger and composer Alex Goldstein, who compiles intricately timed music themes for Olympic and other international skating champions.

Goldstein’s wife, Marina Berkovich, is a fan of Forszpaniak from his annual pro bono music performances with the Collier County Medical Society for indigent care.

Berkovich, of ABG World Video and Audio Production, met him while filming the talent show “many years back.”

“Jan plays piano beautifully,” she says, “and he learned to play sitar that year especially for that show.

“We became instant friends. Absolutely love and admire him. He is so unique!”

Jeff Lytle

Jeff Lytle is a monthly writer and contributor to Life in Naples Magazine. 

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