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Texas angler becomes first female high school fishing national champion

Fallon Clepper, right, and her partner, Wyatt Ford, hold up their catches at the High School Fishing National Championship last month. (Major League Fishing)

Fallon Clepper realized a lifelong dream last month when she won the High School Fishing National Championship, but the highlight of her weekend didn’t come until the following day.

The newly minted champion was walking toward her boat when a young girl in a gray T-shirt and Birkenstock sandals recognized her and asked to take a picture. Clepper happily agreed, letting the young fan hold the trophy she had earned.

“Winning the national championship was amazing,” Clepper said. “But that was the best part of the entire trip, just having a little girl look up to me and just be like, ‘I want to be her one day.’ ”

Clepper and her partner, Wyatt Ford, bested the other 235 boats in the three-day competition on Pickwick Lake near Florence, Ala., to claim the championship. The victory made Clepper the first female angler to win the title, a validating achievement for the rising senior at Lake Creek High in Montgomery, Tex.

Clepper and Ford, both 17, have been partners since they were freshmen. Despite being one of the later boats to enter the lake, they took the lead after the first day of competition when their three bass weighed in at 18 pounds 8 ounces. That output was especially significant considering Clepper and Ford’s late draw meant the location they had scouted was already occupied, forcing them to go elsewhere.

Clepper said she didn’t realize their three fish would weigh that much until her father, who was the captain of their boat, hinted at it.

“Having 18 pounds with three fish is unreal. I don’t know anybody who’s actually really done that,” Clepper said. “We went into the tackle store, and they said that they’ve never even heard of 18 pounds coming from three fish.”

A slower second day meant the pair led a slimmed-down field of the top 10 competitors by just one ounce entering the final day of competition. Soon after arriving at the same location where they had found their first-day success, Ford caught a 7-pound 8-ounce fish.

“I was just like, ‘Okay, we might actually have a shot here to win,’ ” Clepper said.

They still had a long wait ahead. The final weigh-in was conducted in reverse order of the previous day’s standings, meaning Clepper and Ford were last in the queue.

Clepper’s nerves were alleviated somewhat when she spoke with a member of the second-place team. Clepper estimated she and Ford would weigh in at 10 or 11 pounds, and her competitor was at about seven. But she had to wait another 45 minutes for the result to become official.

“It took forever, and I was just ready to weigh in,” Clepper said. “I already knew as soon as the other team pulled up that we’d won it, and I was like, ‘Can we just get to us already?’ ”

When it was their turn, Clepper and Ford discovered their three fish weighed 12 pounds 14 ounces, bringing their total to 39 pounds 9 ounces and securing the victory by a comfortable margin of more than five pounds. Clepper remembers seeing her family rejoice, jumping up and down in celebration.

Clepper and Ford earned more than $250,000 in potential scholarships as well as a place in the field at November’s Toyota Series Championship in Guntersville, Ala. They each also nabbed a bass fish trophy, which Clepper plans to place on the mantel at her father’s home.

Clepper said she hopes the win inspires more girls to get involved in fishing.

“Winning this I hope showed that you can do it,” she said. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.”