Team Gomes amassed 1286 points out of a possible 1400 for the year, and never finished below 30th place en route to the crown. Anytime an angler can achieve these results it is an impressive feat, especially when one considers that Future Pro Tour never drew less than 100 boats in a tournament all year. However, despite the success of the team, and the consistency of their efforts all year, it is a story behind the scenes that moves me to write this piece.
George Gomes, 62 years old, and a retired employee of BFI Garbage in the East Bay learned in July that he had stomach cancer, and the team made every push to overtake the lead for the Angler of the Year title, and held on to it despite George’s weakening condition.
The Gomes competitors learned of George’s illness at the September event at Lake Oroville. Vince Harris, Future Pro’s Tournament Director announced to the crowd at weigh-in that Joe was fishing by himself as his father was in the hospital having undergone a round of chemotherapy treatments. It was at Oroville that the Gomes all but cemented their lead.
“It was really hard for me to go to Oroville,” said Joe Gomes. “My dad is in a hospital bed suffering from stomach cancer, he’s down about 40 pounds, but he was still planning on going.” In fact up until the last day, George was still expecting to be on the water, and his doctor had to keep him from going. However, Joe not going was not even a consideration for the elder Gomes, “Dad looked at me and told me to ‘go bring it home for us,’ and we finished tenth.”
Coming into Folsom Lake, the final event of the season, the Gomes held a 39-point lead, large but not insurmountable. They still needed a solid finish to sew up the title, and the feeling amongst many anglers was that they were pulling for them. As the morning check-in occurred, it was a blessing to see George climb into the boat, and head off down the ramp. His son would later say that there was no way he was going to miss this day.
As weigh-in progressed, we anxiously awaited the outcome of the Gomes fishing, and when we were greeted by the Joe’s request for two bags, meaning they had a fish over five pounds, my heart leapt a little. We asked if George could come out of the truck to share in the excitement, and as their big fish weighed in at over 5 pounds, and their total bag weighed 7.25 pounds, they were solidly in control of their destiny. Their 20th place finish, along with big fish of the event sealed the title. When Vince Harris announced their title at awards, the crowd surrounding the Gomes cheered loudly and began celebrating, exhibiting the love they have for each other and the respect they have for the accomplishment in light of the situation.
“We have been fishing tournaments together for seven years now,” Joe Gomes said. “This is the first time we have achieved this level of success, and I am really glad it came when it did, because we will always have this to remember as a crowning achievement.” George Gomes echoed his son’s sentiments by saying, “this is just great, and I think it is the best thing that has ever happened to me as a tournament angler.”
George recalled starting out in the small boat division of the West Coast Bass Semi Pro Tournament trail, hearing people kid him about not having he guts to step up to the big boat division. “Kent Brown was our director in those days, and he was really good at encouraging us to push ourselves, and grow as anglers,” George continued. “He did a great job of setting the table, and Vince has carried on the torch, giving us a place that we look forward to coming to each event. The people are great, and the events are fun and well organized, I am really proud to share in the Angler of the Year title with Joe.”
Whenever I get the chance to interview a team after clinching a title of this magnitude, I always ask them what their greatest memory would be. This year I only posed the question Joe, and as he swallowed hard to the question and considered his response for perhaps a minute. He said, “Folsom will be that memory for me.” I asked him, “what, clinching the title?”
Joe thoughtfully replied, “no, at the end of the day of fishing, as we pulled the boat out of the water, I had to help my dad out of the boat and onto the ground.” He continued “I hugged him as I picked him up to set him outside the boat, and as close as we are, he is my best friend, my tournament partner, I have never felt that close to my dad; it was almost as if at 37 years old, I was trading places with him, after him raising me and caring for me over the years, it was my turn to care for him, I will never forget that moment.”
Neither will I forget the tone of a son’s voice exclaiming the love he has for his father at that moment. And Papa George, if anyone ever teases you about having the guts to compete, you sure proved them wrong in a big way. Congratulations Team Gomes for a job well done.