Marlin, Mahimahi & GT's - a week in Vava'u

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    Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 9:03am
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Recently returned from a week in Vava'u. It's one of those bucket-list items for anyone who thinks water related activities, great tropical weather and excellent local hospitality are ingredients for a memorable holiday.
 
The flight time from New Zealand is a very reasonable 3 hours with a further 55minute flight on to Vava’u. My daughter, Lana and I arrived in Nuku'alofa and had a couple of hours to kill before we caught the flight to Vava’u which while adding a chunk to our travelling time, passed quickly as we still had plenty to catch up on. A very pleasant 23degrees was a warm & welcome respite from the wintery weather we’d been subjected to over the previous few weeks.
 
Hakula Lodge
People are friendly in Tonga and are very welcoming. Nothing’s a problem and our first stop was with Jeff and Janine at Hakula Lodge. We were met at the airport and after a short drive, stopped off at the market on the way to our accommodation.
 
 
With some fresh fruit & veg for dinner including a massive watermelon, we set off for Hakula lodge which is situated on Fatafehi road.
 
 
 
Hakula Lodge overlooks  the crystal clear harbour, is comfortable and reasonably priced. That evening we dined on freshly caught mahimahi and very much enjoyed the company of Jeff and Janine who have some great stories to tell about the area.
 

 
The SE trades had been forecast to kick in during the first few days of our adventure and the forecast was bang on which certainly limited our fishing options. The trip for the day was to travel to each of the three FAD’s  - North, Middle and South and  see if we could find a marlin and try the FADs for a mahimahi while we were there.
 
 
On the marlin front we went 1/0/0 but had a great time catching mahimahi on 4 and 6kg at the middle FAD a bit later in the day. Ki’i, Jeff’s crewman, runs the deck efficiently and is a good laugh so it was an enjoyable day on the water
 
Ika Lahi Lodge
That evening we were delivered safely to Ika Lahi lodge and spent the next 21/2 days with Steve and Caroline in their little touch of paradise.
 

The photos tell the story but suffice it to say the company was excellent and the food sensational. The first night was mahimahi on a bed of wild rice and the gourmet food was a real highlight thanks to Caroline!
 

Sunday was relaxing day as per local custom and it was great to just chill with Steve and Caroline in such a magic spot.
 
 
The fishing had been hot earlier in the week however the wind was still up and unfortunately we couldn’t get to the South Bank where all the action had been. While we were restricted to keeping quite close inshore to maintain a reasonable level of comfort we had a couple of bites including a small blue that hooked up briefly but fell off.
 
 
Spending a day or two with Steve was enlightening  - he’s kept the most detailed fishing diary you could imagine. Every strike, hook-up and capture is duly noted but not only that, location, lure placement, type, hook rig, time, tide etc for each strike. What Steve now has is the most amazing catch history and quantitative evidence on what works and what doesn’t.
 
 
Get Steve into a conversation about stiff or swinging single hook rigs and he’ll tell you exactly why he uses what he uses and then provide the stats to support it.  Soon to be published is his book on blue marlin fishing and he certainly can talk about the subject with some authority.
 
Steve has a solid track record with an average of 126 blue marlin per season over 85 days fishing (or 1.5 blues caught per day). He also has 168 line-class club and national records including 44 all tackle records as captain. One of the great things about Ika Lahi is within ~5 minutes of leaving the mooring outside the lodge you’re fishing in 200+m of water and in blue marlin country.
 
 
Mystic Sands
Steve dropped us in town and were met by Kjell who took us to Mystic Sands for the night. The accommodation was a large twin room with open plan living and great harbour views.
 
For a little extra, Mosse from the local village will cook you dinner or breakfast or you can always wander along to the Tongan Beach resort for a meal or drinks, it’s next door. A Taxi into town is ~20 pa’anga and there’s plenty of good places to eat. If you’re not used to farmyard noises then a set of ear-plugs might be a plan – there’s lots of roosters and chooks around the area and the roosters will keep you awake if you’re not used to it.
 
Whale Watching with Dolphin Dive
The original plan had been to have a days diving but on advice we switched to a day of swimming with the humpback whales. Damn those things are big when you get in the water!
 

We spotted a cow and calf early on in the trip and had three sessions in the water with an inquisitive calf and her mum. One of the coolest in-water experiences I’ve had and something I’d say is a ‘must-do’ if you’re in Vava’u while the whales are there ~ July-November.
 
Later, we stopped at Mariners cave which is a neat experience too. The cave is a sealed air-pocket and it’s a relatively easy snorkel to dive down and swim the few metres underwater to surface in the cave. Sounds all a bit spooky but the light is surreal and probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
 
Tongan Beach Resort
Helen and Shane run the Tongan Beach resort and are in the process of some significant upgrades to the facilities including a swimming pool close to the water’s edge.
 
 
The food was excellent with a good selection of dishes and similar pricing to any midrange restaurant with a main around the NZ$25-$28 mark. The rooms are close to the water, very comfortable and the staff extremely attentive.
 

Helen and Shane are Kiwis and excellent hosts who enjoy spending time and entertaining their guests and have very exciting plans for development of the facilities and services at the resort.
 
Target one. 5 strikes 5/2/1
Thursday was a day on Target One with Henk and crewman, Te’au. When we got on board ‘Target One’, Henk duly informed us that today was the day we were going to get Lana her first marlin. We set off with high hopes but while we no idea at that point it was going to be a long day, thankfully the wind had buttoned right back to a light breeze and it was pleasantly calm.
 
Out of the entrance and down to the Southern Bank was the trip plan and although we had a couple of strikes near the bank nothing stuck. There was enough action to keep us alert and focused however. Along the way we saw whales leaping around the ocean and then a smallish blue grabbed the starboard rigger and came charging up the port side at full noise.
 
For a split second I was in two minds about banging off some amazing pics or giving Te’au a hand with clearing the gear as it had jumped over the shotgun and the port rigger lines. The gear was cleared and we settled into the fight.
 
 
After 20 minutes the blue earned it’s freedom when the hook pulled but at least Lana had now experienced the adrenalin rush of a hook-up and the amazing spectacle of the  action that followed. I was hopeful that now she understood what I’d been going on about for all the years! Another strike followed but no cigar and we were almost back at the harbour entrance and it was 4.30pm. Henk looked at me and with the briefest of smiles pulled a long left turn out towards the middle FAD. He was going to give it one last shot…..
 
The trip to the FAD and around it a couple of times was uneventful but it was on the way back that all hell broke loose. The reel screamed and a large hole appeared where there was a lure moments before. The blue just smashed it’s head from side to side and then proceeded to run 600m or more before we were under control. The fight began in earnest and I was very proud of the way Lana got stuck in and did what needed to be done. 
 
In an hour and 40 we had the blue alongside and the decision was made to keep the fish as it was completely knackered and none of it would be wasted. The scales at the Tongan Beach later told the story of a 214kg blue – not a bad effort for your first marlin and in Lana’s words, “the toughest thing I’ve ever done”. 11/10 to Henk for going the extra mile(s)!
 
 
Poppin’ Tonga – A day out with Kurt
On the last day I joined Kurt on his Boston Whaler for a day of popping for GT’s.
 
 
The day was a cracker – virtually no wind and I was very excited about our prospects as a GT was on my ‘to do’ list and as Kurt said, ”It’s pretty unusual not to get one…….”
 
We fished a number of spots and it was great talking to Kurt about the fishery and techniques. I learnt heaps as I haven’t done a lot of top-water stuff but that’s going to change. I had bought a few Poppers up for Kurt from Sam at Reel Appeal lures and I had been loaned a Daiwa Saltiga 6500 on a monster mesh popper rod which was silky smooth and could really get some serious distance.
 
 
 The first bit of action was a reasonable GT with poor eyesight and it savagely attacked but totally missed my popper. The next one seemed like a horse to me and it exploded out of the water with my popper in it’s mouth but cleverly avoided the middle Owner treble and 8/0 Jobu on the tail. Bugger – very cool seeing it suspended in mid air for a moment though and I was certainly good for another couple of hundred casts just to see that again.
 
A cast over another bait school (Kurt’s trained eye could spot the bait schools from miles away) resulted in an almighty splash and a solid hook-up. In reasonably short order a 10kg GT was released after a couple of pics and to hopefully grow to monster size for another day.
 
 
As there was only the two of us, Kurt was fishing from time to time and he hooked a real nice one a little bit later in the day.
 
 
The strike was amazing with the GT coming back twice more after the initial hit before it was finally hooked. Now this was a string puller and after some serious to and fro Kurt won the battle. More pics and a GT estimated somewhere between 35 & 40kg released.
 
 
To finish the day, I saw something moving in the water while we were drifting a channel and Kurt explained it was a manta ray. “Do you want to jump in and have a snorkel with them”? Kurt asked. I thought to myself, Hmmm – 20m drops off to ?m in this channel that looked like a place where all manner of things with big teefs would hang out – what could possibly go wrong?
 
Courage plucked and ready to take the plunge, we motored up and over I went. I drifted back on the manta rays which were just lazily keeping station and feeding in the crystal clear current  - another very special and quite surreal experience just heading towards them and having them peel off and let me through as I got close. Awesome day out Kurt – some great bits and bytes for the memory banks, that’s for sure.
 
 
Vava’u is special. There’s no high rise hotels in sight but the people are welcoming, interesting, friendly and helpful. If you like fishing, diving, snorkeling or playing with whales it surely is a bucket-list item.
 
Thanks to Markus and Nicole at Dive Fish Snow for their organisation of flights and assistance with accommodation at Mystic Sands and Tongan Beach Resort.
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Espresso Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 9:07am
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Mate, Clap  superb in every way.

Why did you come back again..?
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Awesome stuff Grunta, great reading and some fab photos...
 
Like Espresso says...you came back why?
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Kezza Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 9:23am
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contender for report of the year - excellent Grunta!!
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote lance@driveline.co.nz Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 9:26am
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Nice one Grunta... makes me want to pack up and head over !
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Grunta Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 9:29am
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It certainly would be a great place to hang out during our winter months! But guess we have to make the most of what we have here in Godzone.... where are those skiis???
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Merlin the marlin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 9:31am
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I'm heading up to Vavau next month. Looking foward to it.
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Cool cool and cool yes sir that looks like a lot of fun
Good stuff grunta bet ya girl was stoked
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She sure was Mitch and now has the Blair household record for the biggest marlin!  The total experience of catching one loses a heap in the telling and it's really something you need to do to get what it's all about so stoked Lana had the opportunity. Very proud of her and a mighty fine effort from the Target One team, Henk and Te'au on the day as well. Very professional, relaxed and supportive.
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great report that well done to the young lady, thats a dam fine catch, 48 and I have never been out of NZ it is a bucket list dream that one.
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Awesome report thank you! What an excellent holiday option!!! How did you go about booking it all?

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I organised a couple of the charters/accom options myself and Markus at Dive Fish Snow sorted the rest of it Andrew. They have fished with many of the operators around the Pacific so are worth talking to and it's hard to beat some of their packages even if you do it all yourself. Certainly worth giving them a call.
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote aerosmith Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 1:02pm
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Awesome. Looks like you absolutely nailed it! Thanks for that mate. 
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what a fantastic read Grunta, and congrats to your daughter to...
yep very special place, brings back lots of fine memories i had of that place....



love this Photo Grant bloody awesome mate...
these birds always remind me of something out of the prehistoric age,
so graceful yet so agile in the air, seen them catch flying fish when they have left the sea being chased by Mahimahi, then run along the surface with bottom bill in the water to force the fish down its throat as they were to big to swallow without help...
the mighty Frigate bird...



      
Thanks for everything you did for us Eric. may you rest in peace, You were one of the real legends of NZ recreational fishing
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Agree with one of the top reports of the year. Love the pics. Awesome read. Thank for taking your time to share this awesome adventure with us
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hi grunta,

great post, thanks for sharing, what a great trip. definitely on my to do list in the next wee while.

amazing photos you have taken, awesome!

i am interested in your thoughts of the comparison of staying & fishing with ika lahi lodge or hakula lodge. i know this may be tough for you to say which you favour, but if you had to recommend one............. and why please.

i have done quite a bit of internet research on both of them in the last few years and both look really good. i plan to stay at either one of them and your thoughts would be greatly appreciated thanks.

pm if you prefer.

cheers alan
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Originally posted by Lethal Lethal wrote:

what a fantastic read Grunta, and congrats to your daughter to...
yep very special place, brings back lots of fine memories i had of that place....



love this Photo Grant bloody awesome mate...
these birds always remind me of something out of the prehistoric age,
so graceful yet so agile in the air, seen them catch flying fish when they have left the sea being chased by Mahimahi, then run along the surface with bottom bill in the water to force the fish down its throat as they were to big to swallow without help...
the mighty Frigate bird...

Is that what they call them?.....I was thinking for a mo that it was a sea eagle or.....Ikale which is the name of the Tongan beer. Just guessing....but a great looking bird.
Thanks for the info Lethal      
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Grunta Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Sep 2012 at 6:24pm
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Alan - the two lodges are quite different styles and prices and I think the choice will depend on a number of things like if you want to self cater, how close you'd like to be to town, who you plan to fish with etc. Ika Lahi is self-contained and you're 5 mins (literally) from cobalt blue water fishing. Give me a call on 021-996-955 when you're free and I can give a bit more background and happy to help.  I'm already thinking about getting up there again next year... maybe a bit later in the year and hopefully have a shot at a big YFT before they're all canned!
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Great report Grunta! 

One GT is enough to have you hooked for life mate! I'm obsessed with them after catching a few little ones, they are a great looking fish! 

Nice to see Kurt's smiling face with solid GT!

Did he mention his sail-fish on a stick bait whilst fishing solo a month or so ago!!! 

Thanks for the report, and the memory's triggered from it... Thumbs Up
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Grunta - you are now on my official hate list alongside Stu and Boulder Ouch.
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