As the sun beat down on the surface of Pickwick Lake June 25, Fallon Clepper and Wyatt Ford weren't just fishing for the High School Fishing National Championship title, but also for a shot at history.
The 17-year-olds would compete against a whopping 236 other boats, all navigated by anglers with the same hunger for victory, reward, and national recognition. But Clepper had an extra boost of motivation, as she was only a spitting distance away from becoming the first female to ever win a high school national championship.
As the third day came to a close, the tandem sealed Clepper's mark on history with a 5 pound, 5 ounce margin of victory, as the duo registered a three-day total of 39 pounds, 9 ounces. Coincidentally, June 23 marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, echoing the significance of what Clepper had just accomplished.
"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," she told USA Today in an interview. "So I hope that I can encourage girls to get out there and start fishing."
Perhaps it was fate that scripted a partnership between the two Lake Creek High School Students from Montgomery, Texas, as their parents were long-time friends who didn't reconnect until the teens' freshman year of high school. Because the high school fishing national championship requires a team of two anglers and an adult captain, the proverbial writing was on the wall.
"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 deep roots in the soil of competitive fishing, as Clepper entered her first event when she was 11 after finding a passion for fishing with her father, Julian, who also fishes competitively. In fact, she caught her heaviest bass alongside her father when she was only 14 years old at nearby Lake Conroe. Ford, conversely, found his love for fishing when he was 8, as his family moved to a new house across the street from a pond, but didn't consider entering a tournament until he joined the fishing team in high school.
"Winning the national championship was amazing," Clepper told the Washington Post in an interview. "But that was the best part of the entire trip, just having a little girl look up to me and just me like, 'I want to be her one day.'"
The pair earned more than $250,000 in potential scholarships as well as a place in the Toyota Series Championship Nov. 3-5 at Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Alabama.
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