It was a scorching sunny afternoon in June at the High School Fishing National Championship in Florence, Alabama, when Fallon Clepper used her St. Croix Mojo rod to make history alongside her partner on Pickwick Lake.
Seventeen-year-olds Clepper and Wyatt Ford won the annual tournament June 25 with a three-day total of 39 pounds and 9 ounces — a victory that earned them four-year college offers totaling $180,000 each among other money prizes. With 236 boats competing, their margin of victory was by 5 pounds, 5 ounces.
Fallon became the first female to win the high school national championship. With the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23, she was hoping to inspire the next generation of girls and others to get into the sport.
“I hope that me being the first girl (to make history) gave other girls an opportunity to go out there and see that you can do anything,” Clepper said. “So I hope that I can encourage girls to get out there and start fishing.”
The high school fishing national championship is a competition comprised of teams from the United States and several other countries. Each team features three people to a boat, with two being high school fishing anglers and the other their adult captain or coach. The goal is to have the greatest three-day total in weight of bass fish captured.
The chemistry between Clepper and Ford was forged by the people who know them best — their parents, who were long-time friends and reconnected during Clepper and Ford's freshman year at Lake Creek High School in Montgomery, Texas.
“We were at 'Meet the Teacher' (our) freshman year and I was walking out of the classroom,” Clepper said. “Then I asked him if he had a partner and he said no."
After some initial hesitance from Ford, he realized his choice was a simple one.
“We’re very successful because we both like to fish different styles,” Ford said. “Whenever you’re fishing, if both people are fishing the same style, like let’s say we’re both throwing moving baits and the fish don’t want that? Then you’re not going to catch as many fish.”
The two have developed a love for catching bass fish since they were children, and their backgrounds have made them one of the most talented tandems in the country.
Clepper's love for fishing developed at an early age with her father, Julian, who also a competitive fisherman. She began competing competitively when she was 11 and won numerous events and qualifying tournaments.
She fondly remembers a Tuesday night when she was 14 years old at nearby Lake Conroe in Montgomery County, Texas, with her dad. That's when she caught the heaviest fish in her young career.
“I ended up catching my personal best, which is an (11 pounds, 6 ounces) and it was really a memorable experience,” Clepper said.
Ford got a later start to his fishing career, as he began trying the sport when he moved to his new house in Montgomery, Texas, in 2014 when he was 8 years old. He was intrigued to start fishing when he noticed a pond across the street from his home, and then later joined the fishing team in high school.
The soft-spoken fisherman follows Major League Fishing champion Jacob Wheeler for his influence on young anglers and ability to create valuable content on social media for his fans
“I really like Jacob Wheeler because he has a really big presence with the youth today. With his YouTube channel and everything else that he does, he has a very large presence, and I like that.” Ford said.
Both athletes navigated different routes to get to their elite level and their ability to work cohesively has paid dividends for their success as a team.
The tandem has advanced to the 2022 MLF Championship Nov. 3-5 on Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Alabama. The top prize is a Phoenix 518 Pro boat with 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fishing: 17-year-old girl makes history with huge haul, HS title