20th Anniversary of NZ Fishing News Vava'u Contest

The NZ Fishing News hosted Vava’u International Fishing Tournament will celebrate its 20th anniversary this October.

Starting off in 1998, the event was organised by NZFN in conjunction with the Tongan Tourism Bureau and was fished out of the Royal Sunset Resort on the small island of Atata, a 30-minute boat ride from the Tongatapu mainland.

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Tourism operator and host at the tournament headquarters Dave Hunt was quite the entrepreneur, putting together the event using a mixture of private and charter boats.

Locally carved trophies are up for grabs for all the individual species and team winners.

There were six teams the first year, with Ben Bennington the top skipper. The fleet was a motley one, including a landing barge, a couple of private boats, one small charter boat and two privately owned KVs – a locally made fibreglass open boat powered with 70HP outboards. Good tackle was thin on the ground, but the Kiwi anglers made the most of the interesting situation, cobbling together rods and reels to make the event work.

The tournament outgrew the facilities, with boat availability the biggest stumbling block. After three years the event was relocated 200 miles north to Vava’u where the fishing was better and there was some semblance of a charter fleet. John Going had his Tutukaka-based charter boat Delray up there, as was Keith McKee with Kiwi Magic. Henk Gros was running Target One and Steve Campbell had not long arrived, eventually opening a fishing lodge on one of the outer islands on the shores of Hunga lagoon. He contributed a couple of boats to the fleet which also included Dora Malia run by an ex-commercial fisher Paul Meade.

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Accommodation that first year in Vava’u was on a small ‘boutique’ cruise ship, the Oleanda. It was quite a unique situation, coming back at the end of the last day’s fishing to the ship which would be in a different anchorage each night.

With the ship unavailable the next year the tournament base shifted to Neiafu Harbour on whose shores the Pua’ International Hotel had been constructed. This was to be the venue for several years until circumstances forced a change. Tonga Beach Report proprietors Shane and Helen Wilson stepped up to the plate, the property being just what many Kiwis imagined a South Pacific resort might be – water lapping at the edges, the shade from the swaying palm trees proving welcome respite from the tropical heat, and a cold beverage close at hand!

Mark and Judi Airey were managing the resort for the Walkers. Mark in a previous working life had been manager of NZFN and was one of the event’s instigators, a factor ensuring the tournament was well run.

The event aimed to provide an opportunity for anglers to sample to delights one of the world’s best blue marlin fisheries had to offer. Many of our guests had caught their first billfish and an even bigger number their first gamefish.

The anglers and crews share a well-earned beer at the end of another day's fishing.

If you are looking for a big money, big prize event, the NZFN Vava’u tournament is not for you. The bulk of the rewards are locally hand-carved trophies and trinkets, with the top angler taking away a cheque for NZ$1,000.

Because it is the 20th anniversary of the event, the hosts will be going all out to make it something special. While the details are yet to be finalised, there are some interesting options under consideration.

The trip sees a maximum of eight teams of four draw for their boats for each day. This is the fairest way of doing things as boats will differ in size and skipper/crew experience, and it also allows the guests to experience different fishing styles.

Interest in the tournament has been great. Treena Moore from Galaxy World Travellers has received entries from four crews along with several individuals. While it is preferred that people arrange their crews, organisers will place guests in a composite team.

“This is a fun event and while it is still a contest, rivalry is friendly. We expect the final 10 spots will fill quickly,” Treena says. “There is a champion lady angler trophy and we would love to have a ladies team enter.”

May 2024 - Grant Dixon
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.

Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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