Legacy Marine L70 Gamefishing

Mat Cranswick goes marlin fishing on Legacy Marine's flagship L70 Paragon...

The voyage

In July 2023, Legacy Marine’s flagship L70 Paragon made the 1,300 nautical mile voyage from its home port of Whakatane to Vava’u where it was based for a month to take advantage of the exceptional fishing opportunities on offer. Departing New Zealand on a cold winter’s day, Paragon pointed its bow north with the big Man V12 1900hp diesels pushing her along at 8.5 knots, sipping just 3 litres of diesel per nautical mile. The crew of five took two-hour shifts at the helm and experienced a good crossing with a southwesterly breeze on the quarter between 15-25 knots. As each day passed, another layer of clothing was removed with the air temperature steadily rising. Six days later, after stopping off at Minerva Reef and Tongatapu along the way, Paragon arrived in Vava’u and was greeted with purple 27-degree water and an ocean full of hungry blue marlin!

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The destination

Vava’u consists of around 55 steep, bush-clad islands that fall into the deep clear waters surrounding them. Part of the kingdom of Tonga, Vava’u has a population of 14,200 with Mt Talau being its highest point at 204m above sea level. Vava’u is well known as a whale-watching destination with people from all around the world travelling there to watch and swim with the majestic humpback whales that return there every year to give birth to their young in the sheltered warm waters. At times, in every direction you looked from Paragon’s flybridge, you could see a blow or splash on the horizon as a distant whale took a breath or fell back into the water after launching its 40-tonne body into the sky.

Vava’u offers plenty of shelter from all wind directions with a handful of moorings for smaller vessels (up to 40-50 feet) and larger vessels needing to drop anchor. Paragon spent most nights in Vava’u anchored up in the Port of Refuge near the capital of Neiafu, which was handy to the local market on the waterfront for stocking up on local produce and supplies. The market had a fantastic selection of tropical fruits such as watermelons and bananas, but also had plenty of vegetables on offer such as lettuces and tomatoes. A handful of small shops above the market had all the other supplies required such as milk, locally made coconut cream, and freshly baked bread.

Also situated on the waterfront is the Mango Bar which proved to be a popular place for travelling boats to come ashore on their tenders and tie up to the jetty to enjoy a cold beverage and meal. The only thing warmer than the climate in Vava’u is the hospitality, and the welcoming locals wear a permanent smile from ear to ear. On Sunday mornings the church bells ring loudly, and the voices of locals fill the air as they sing at the local church on the hill above the Port.

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The fishing

Vava’u is primarily a blue marlin fishery with plenty of other pelagic species available such as mahimahi, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and sailfish. For fishers, there is a lot on offer and the best thing about Vava’u is you do not need to go far to get into the action, and no matter the weather there is always somewhere sheltered to fish. Plenty of fish are caught inside the islands themselves before leaving the harbour, but we choose to set the lures just outside the islands in slightly deeper water to avoid the wahoo which are plentiful and a lure makers’ best friend. Their razor-sharp teeth will often trim a whole skirt off a lure with just one bite leaving just the head, so it certainly pays to pack a few spares! As soon as you depart the islands the bottom falls away instantly and within a few miles, you find yourself in over 1,000 meters of water and prime blue marlin country.

The opportunity of a lifetime

I was fortunate enough to fly over and spend four days onboard Paragon and experience this amazing New Zealand-built motor yacht in its element. After a short taxi ride from the airport, we met the rest of the crew already there at the Mango Bar enjoying a cold beer and a hot bowl of taro and potato chips with Paragon resting on anchor straight out the front. Stories were shared about the crossing and fishing already experienced and the excitement levels were getting hard to contain. I was like a kid staring at presents under the Christmas tree waiting to rip into them! With lunch washed down, we untied the tender from the Mango Bar’s wharf and headed out to our floating home for the next week buzzing with anticipation.

Endless possibilities

There is something special about starting a new day on the water. The feeling of self-reliance, adventure, the unknown, and the endless possibilities that await. With the sound of the engines coming to life signaling the beginning of a new day, each day started with a feeling of excitement and anticipation. With the anchor lifted, one of the crew would untie the tender from the stern cleat and attach the same line to a mooring where it floated alone for the day awaiting Paragon’s return. The run out to the open ocean allowed just enough time to get some fuel in the belly for the day and enjoy a hot coffee, before getting the lures set as the ocean floor fell steeply away.

After spending all my life in trailer boats flying around the ocean at full noise, it was nice to just cruise everywhere at 8-10 knots and enjoy making a meal, playing cards, or simply soaking in the scenery – I found it a super relaxing way to spend time on the water. The main target species for the trip was blue marlin which averaged around 80- 120kg, but there are also some XXL models over there, so it pays to be prepared and not run ‘silly string’ in case that big girl shows up. The Shaw family, who are the owners of Paragon, know this all too well having landed the Tongan all-tackle record on their previous boat weighing 1,084 pounds.

On the second day of the trip while making our way home we encountered the largest blue marlin of our trip directly in front of the entrance to the island group. At the time we were fishing not far from land due to the 25-30knot SE winds blowing which made for a rather exciting (and wet fight) for Todd who was on the rod while younger brother Baz had a good time reversing into the sea giving him a good rinsing. After a 30-minute fight, a nice blue well over the 200kg mark glided up boatside before the hook was removed and the big girl was sent on her way after giving the crew a good shakedown on the leader. At this point, I realised that we were in a world-class blue marlin fishery and that fish of a lifetime could strike at any time.

Another common catch in the waters that surround Vava’u is mahimahi, one of the most beautiful looking and eating fish in the ocean. The frigate birds often gave away the location of the mahi and would hover over them, so it paid to drive away from them once dinner was sorted to avoid having to slow down and clear the gear too often. Looking after fish selected for dinner was made easy thanks to Paragon’s salt ice maker which feeds into an insulated underfloor fish bin. When mixed with a bit of salt water, it provided the perfect (and much-needed) slurry to keep the likes of mahimahi and wahoo chilled down perfectly and in optimum eating quality. All marlin and sailfish were released as quickly as possible to ensure they survived and would be there for someone else to enjoy the pleasure of catching.

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The day of days

Paragon certainly made the right noise to raise marlin and every day spent fishing resulted in marlin encounters, but the second full day of fishing we had in Vava’u will be an experience I will never forget. The crew caught and released five blue marlin and had three others on that did not stick. Having arrived at an area that had provided good marlin fishing in previous trips for the Shaw’s, things were looking good with plenty of birds hovering above schools of skipjack tuna and plenty of bait balls on the sounder. The morning bite was good with two blues caught and released before lunchtime, but what unfolded in the afternoon was absolutely unbelievable!

That afternoon, on two occasions just after releasing blue marlin, and before all the gear had been reset, we found ourselves tight on other ones. One of the blues even ripped the line out of my hand as I was walking it back to the outrigger clip resulting in a mad dash to the reel to push the lever up to strike so a massive bird’s nest wouldn’t unfold. By this stage in the trip, everybody on board had ticked the ‘blue marlin box’ on their fishing bucket list and any further fish were an absolute bonus allowing each one to be enjoyed in a relaxed manner without the usual having to ‘make it count’ feeling.

Anyone who has fished for blue marlin will understand they can be very unpredictable to fight, go crazy once hooked, and can be a real handful making for exciting battles. There were a few black fingernails and bill-rashed arms from trying to contain them boatside, and even Paragon inherited a nice 500mm long scratch in its immaculate paint job from a blue that flew out of the water at full throttle and ended up flying straight into the centre of the 24m long motor yacht making a rather loud thud and no doubt giving the marlin one heck of a fright!

Paragon is certainly a well-oiled operation with the Shaw family running things like clockwork and when a fish crashed onto a lure everybody just knew where to be and what to do. This resulted in the gear being cleared nice and early and the blue marlin brought boatside as quickly as possible to ensure they swam away healthily. Towards the end of the day, we had to pull the gear in and cruise home with no lures out just to make sure we would find a suitable anchorage before dark and not be held up by any more hungry marlin.

Andy

While over in Vava’u we were given the number of a bloke called Andy and asked to give him a call if there was a spare seat sometime to come out for a day fishing. After touching base with Andy, we found out he was over there working for a New Zealand business contracted to do some aerial poisoning with Helicopters to try to eradicate rats from an island not far from Vava’u called Late. Andy had been working hard in the heat and living on the remote island sleeping in a tent and eating tinned food, so when asked if he was keen to come out for a day of game fishing, he was rather stoked, to say the least!

Andy had not done a lot of fishing but said early in the conversation it was a dream of his to catch a marlin. It seems dreams come true in a hurry in Vava’u and a couple of hours into the trip he was harnessed up and soon after he was hanging onto the bill of his first marlin before letting go and watching it glide back home. He was over the moon and soon after he landed his second blue marlin for the day. Poor old Andy will now be ruined when he begins his game fishing career back home in New Zealand and might get a bit of a shock when it takes longer than a couple of hours to hook up.

In its element

Paragon means ‘a model of excellence, or perfection of a kind’ and after spending time on this amazing New Zealand-built motor yacht, I can confirm that it certainly lives up to its name and exceeded expectations in every way. Paragon is luxuriously appointed with comforts far greater than anything I have experienced on land, yet you do not feel like you are walking on eggshells while on board due to the well-thought-out interior design and high-quality materials used throughout.

At the end of a day’s fishing, it was an easy clean up with the onboard water blaster making short work of the exterior and durable, easy-to-clean surfaces making the interior look like new after a quick wipe down. Paragon has been designed and built for a family who love fishing and it certainly shows. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place making things function seamlessly. The aft helm station proved to be an integral part of the operation while fighting fish and offered a perfect view down over the angler and fish with full control at the fingertips. The raised rear lounge outside the saloon proved to be a great place to keep an eye on the lures in utmost comfort and offered a perfect view over each of the smoking lures only a few steps away from the gear when a lit-up marlin appeared in the spread. Once cleared there were plenty of rod holders along the top of the cockpit centre station to get gear stored out of the way and at the push of a button, the 15m outriggers could be hydraulically lifted and lowered when required.

The swim step design also worked well, allowing someone to get down low and remove the hook while bracing themselves against the stainless corner rails, yet was open across the middle making getting on and off the tender a breeze. One other thing that blew my mind was how quiet Paragon was. There was not a creak or squeak to be heard and the underwater exhausts muffled the engine noise down to the slightest of hums enabling a screaming reel to be heard from anywhere onboard.

In the tropics you need to be able to escape the heat (especially when putting your head down) and being fully air-conditioned always kept the temperature perfect. Refrigeration and freezer space is also important, and Paragon has this well under control with four large refrigerator/freezer drawers integrated into the cabinetry below the stairwell, two refrigerator drawers on the flybridge, a full-sized refrigerator/freezer in the galley, and a large bait freezer and huge underfloor fish bin with salt ice maker in the cockpit.

When my time onboard Paragon came to an end, it was about to make its way across to Fiji (no doubt with lures in tow) where it would be based for a month for the grandchildren and family to fly over and create memories on, before its return home to get ready for the New Zealand summer. After years of planning and a two-year build, it was great to see the Shaw family’s dream motor yacht become a reality and deliver experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. The journey of Paragon really is a true ‘Legacy’!



October 2023 - Mat Cranswick
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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