Ge­off Thomas – out­doors­man

Fish­ing Per­son­al­ity Ge­off Thomas needs no in­tro­duc­tion to read­ers of this mag­a­zine. John Eichelsheim pro­files one of the coun­try’s best­known out­doors me­dia per­son­al­i­ties, who’s been bring­ing us fish­ing and hunt­ing film, tele­vi­sion, video and ra­dio prod­uct

NZ Fishing News - - Fishing Personality - Tourism

In March this year the last episode of Rheem Out­doors with Ge­off went to air, clos­ing the book on 35 years of out­doors-themed film, video and tele­vi­sion. The fi­nal in­stal­ment marked the end of 17 con­sec­u­tive se­ries for

Out­doors with Ge­off.

“It’s the last one I’ll make,” says Ge­off. “I’ve done my bit; the [me­dia] land­scape has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion since I started out, and it’s time to leave tele­vi­sion to the young guys.”

Ge­off’s for­ma­tive years were spent grow­ing up in Paku­ranga, where he fished lo­cal rocks, wharves and jet­ties at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity – but it was Lake Tarawera that be­came his spe­cial place. The Thomas family had a bach on its shores, where they spent week­ends and hol­i­days, en­abling Ge­off to be­come an ac­com­plished trout fisher.

Af­ter univer­sity Ge­off be­gan a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism with the Auck­land Star news­pa­per, worked briefly for Ra­dio 1 and then moved his young family to Ro­torua in 1970 to fol­low his pas­sion. He set him­self up as a trout-fish­ing guide, sup­ple­ment­ing guid­ing work with part-time re­port­ing for the Ro­torua Daily Post and pho­tog­ra­phy for the NZ Her­ald. By the mid-sev­en­ties Ge­off was fully im­mersed in the tourism in­dus­try, hav­ing es­tab­lished Trout Sa­faris (NZ) Ltd, a travel agency spe­cial­is­ing in New Zealand hol­i­days for trav­el­ling sports­men. His clients in­cluded fa­mous fish­ing names such as Ernest (Ernie) Sch­wiebert and Lefty Kreh, screen celebri­ties Larry ‘JR’ Hag­man, James ‘The Vir­ginian’ Drury and golfer Jack Nik­laus.

Dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s Ge­off stren­u­ously pro­moted New Zealand’s fish­ing and hunt­ing to over­seas mar­kets, mak­ing nu­mer­ous pro­mo­tional trips to the USA, Canada, Aus­tralia and else­where. He at­tended con­fer­ences, showed films, made pre­sen­ta­tions and, when­ever pos­si­ble, took the op­por­tu­nity to fish and hunt with lo­cal guides.

Ge­off was ac­tively pro­mot­ing fish­ing in­side New Zealand as well, be­com­ing Pres­i­dent of the Ro­torua An­gler’s

As­so­ci­a­tion and es­tab­lish­ing, with oth­ers, the NZ Pro­fes­sional Guides As­so­ci­a­tion, of which he was made in­au­gu­ral pres­i­dent. A last­ing legacy of this pe­riod are the fish-out days he started to get young kids in­ter­ested in fish­ing. They are still held each year at Fish & Game’s Ngongo­taha Hatch­ery and else­where.

Ge­off also served as the first chair­man of the NZ Sport Fish­ing Mar­ket­ing Group, a body set up in 1984 to pro­mote this coun­try’s recre­ational fish­ing to over­seas mar­kets. Part­ners in­cluded Air New Zealand, the Tourist Ho­tel Cor­po­ra­tion, Mount Cook Line, var­i­ous trout-fish­ing guides as­so­ci­a­tions, and the Lux­ury Lodges As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand.

Also in 1984, Ge­off es­tab­lished Path­ways In­ter­na­tional with Amer­i­can Charles Gaines, a book­ing agency to send sports­men (and women) to ex­clu­sive hunt­ing and fish­ing des­ti­na­tions in New Zealand, Aus­tralia, South Amer­ica, Canada, Europe and Africa.

Tele­vi­sion and film

The 1980s were a busy decade for Thomas. Com­ple­ment­ing his other ac­tiv­i­ties, Ge­off com­bined jour­nal­ism and fish­ing in a se­ries of film and tele­vi­sion works. His first was a pi­lot in 1981 for a tele­vi­sion se­ries on fish­ing in New Zealand. On the back of it he es­tab­lished Sa­fari Pro­duc­tions and pro­duced 13 half-hour pro­grammes for tele­vi­sion, along with two one-hour episodes, call­ing the se­ries Fish­ing Dow­nun­der. Ge­off wrote, hosted and raised the fi­nance for what turned out to be a suc­cess­ful first fo­ray into fish­ing tele­vi­sion.

Not long af­ter Fish­ing Dow­nun­der’s re­lease he was com­mis­sioned to pro­duce three pro­mo­tional films for the tourist­fish­ing in­dus­try in New Zealand. These were screened widely around the world, but Sa­fari Pro­duc­tions broke new ground in 1986 by pro­duc­ing six fish­ing videos for gen­eral sale based on the Fish­ing Dow­nun­der se­ries.

At the time, says Ge­off, this was a con­sid­er­able gam­ble: “We had to per­suade or­di­nary Ki­wis to buy a video to own rather than rent it for a few days from a video store, which was the norm back then.”

The gam­ble paid off, and with the video busi­ness gain­ing mo­men­tum, Ge­off moved his family back to Auck­land, where he pro­duced Snap­per Se­crets in 1989.

Snap­per Se­crets was a ru­n­away suc­cess, sell­ing 26,000 copies, a record for video sales in New Zealand that’s never been matched. It cre­ated a huge mar­ket for sell­through videos, and Sa­fari Pro­duc­tions fol­lowed up with eight more ti­tles in the Se­crets se­ries, which to­gether achieved 150,000 sales. Then came more fish­ing videos, as well as 13 gen­eral-in­ter­est ti­tles in gen­res as di­verse as rugby and gar­den­ing. When DVD re­placed video, Sa­fari Pro­duc­tions shifted to mak­ing out­doors DVDS.

As the 1990s drew on, Ge­off took the next log­i­cal step, writ­ing and host­ing 52 episodes of the Out­door Jour­nal for the Hori­zon-pa­cific net­work of re­gional tele­vi­sion sta­tions. The pro­grammes screened in 1995-1996.

Then in 1999 he broke into main­stream TV, writ­ing, pro­duc­ing and host­ing 13 episodes of Mazda Out­doors on TV One. Mazda Out­doors quickly ex­panded to a 25 or 26 episode se­ries, was moved to TV3 as Gulf Har­bour Out­doors, then be­came Out­doors with Ge­off, and ran con­tin­u­ously for 17 years, some­times with nam­ing-right spon­sors and some­times with­out. The last episode of the fi­nal se­ries screened on March 2016, but re-runs and re­peats are still play­ing on TV3 and Coun­try TV.

Ra­dio and print

Though the 1990s, 2000 and 2010s, Ge­off con­tin­ued writ­ing about the out­doors for the NZ Her­ald as a weekly fish­ing colum­nist and as out­doors colum­nist for the Her­ald on Sun­day. He also took on the edi­tor’s role at NZ Fish­ing World from 1999, pro­duc­ing 69 is­sues be­fore mov­ing on. Ge­off wrote books too – seven of them from 1995 – with The Com­plete NZ Fish­er­man win­ning a Mon­tana Book Award in 1998. His lat­est book, Out­doors with Ge­off is a com­pi­la­tion of col­umns from the NZ Her­ald avail­able from book­sell­ers now.

In 1998 Ge­off kicked off The Fish­ing Break­fast on Ra­dio Sport, which he hosted un­til Jan­uary 2009, be­fore launch­ing The Fish­ing Show on Ra­di­o­live, fronting that ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing un­til De­cem­ber 2011. The Fish­ing Show still airs on Ra­di­o­live Fri­day evenings 7-8pm and Satur­day morn­ings 5-6am, now hosted by The Out­doors Group.

Full cir­cle

It’s been quite a ca­reer so far, but Ge­off has no de­sire to hang up his boots.

He might be fin­ish­ing with tele­vi­sion but ‘re­tire­ment’ is a dirty word. While Ge­off’s ‘push­ing 70’, he’s not short of en­ergy or am­bi­tion and he’s still got stuff to do.

“We start our days in nap­pies and we end our days in nap­pies; it’s what we do be­tween the nap­pies that counts,” he quips.

Tele­vi­sion was only ever one of many threads in Ge­off’s life, and he main­tains he’s now busier than ever. Ge­off has on­go­ing in­ter­ests in Auck­land prop­erty, writ­ing com­mit­ments with the NZ Her­ald, an on­line tackle busi­ness with his son (Gt­tackle.co.nz), a new fish­ing lodge on Lake Tarawera (2012), plenty of cor­po­rate host­ing work and much more.

Keen to give some­thing back to the com­mu­nity, Ge­off re­cently set up the HARK Trust, an or­gan­i­sa­tion which chal­lenges at-risk young­sters with out­door ad­ven­ture, help­ing them to grow as peo­ple (www.hark.org.nz). He’s big on family and very in­volved in the lives of his adult chil­dren.

By pur­chas­ing Rain­bow’s Re­turn Lodge (www.ge­offthomas.co.nz) on the shores of Lake Tarawera, Ge­off Thomas has come full cir­cle. He loved Lake Tarawera as a child and stayed faith­ful to it his whole life.

“It’s my spir­i­tual home,” say Ge­off, who in­tends to en­ter­tain cor­po­rate spon­sors and guests at the lodge for many years to come.

“The ob­vi­ous change is in abun­dance. Fish are dis­ap­pear­ing ev­ery­where. The trou­ble is, the base­line shifts with each gen­er­a­tion. Peo­ple judge the abun­dance of fish on their own ex­pe­ri­ence, but catches that are nor­mal for young fish­ers to­day would have been judged poor by pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions fish­ing in more abun­dant seas,” said Ge­off. “I re­mem­ber much bet­ter fish­ing 40 years ago. There should be mil­lions more snap­per in the Hau­raki Gulf, but un­ac­knowl­edged and un­re­ported trawler waste and a new 30cm recre­ational size limit that ac­tu­ally re­sults in more small snap­per dy­ing are throt­tling any re­cov­ery.”

Even our much vaunted fresh­wa­ter fish­eries have de­clined dra­mat­i­cally, says Ge­off, who re­mem­bers when 5kg trout were hardly re­marked upon in Lake Tarawera. To­day such fish are no­table catches.

While Ge­off at­tributes the de­cline of our river and lake fish­eries largely to changes in land and wa­ter use, tech­nol­ogy ad­vances and a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion played their part.

In salt­wa­ter, ad­vances in ma­rine elec­tron­ics, fish­ing gear and fish­ing knowl­edge have helped main­tain recre­ational and com­mer­cial catch rates de­spite de­clin­ing stocks. Fish­ers are more mo­bile and bet­ter able to find fish than ever be­fore, says Ge­off.

“With all the tech­nol­ogy avail­able to us to­day, if we get to the point where we strug­gle to catch fish, it’s prob­a­bly too late. They’re ef­fec­tively gone and may never come back,” warns Ge­off.

Ge­off reck­ons the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing recre­ational fish­ing is to mo­bilise the mass of or­di­nary Kiwi fish­ers to force changes in the way our fish­eries are man­aged.

“With good man­age­ment abun­dant stocks are pos­si­ble, but we have to put the fish­ery first, not com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­ing in­ter­ests.”

Ge­off has spent a life­time com­mu­ni­cat­ing his pas­sion for hunt­ing and fish­ing to the New Zealand pub­lic through film, video, tele­vi­sion and print me­dia.

Ge­off has en­joyed fish­ing in the Pa­cific Is­lands as well as at home. He’s loves catch­ing trevally, both GTS in the trop­ics and their smaller New Zealand cousins at home.

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