FLORENCE, Ala. – Fallon Clepper and Wyatt Ford are national champions. After leading wire-to-wire in the 2022 High School Bass Fishing National Championship in Florence, Alabama, the 17-year-old Lake Creek High School rising seniors from Montgomery, Texas, can claim high school bass fishing’s highest honor.
They did it behind a three-day total of nine bass weighing more than 34 pounds. However, going into the final day of competition, Clepper and Ford held just a 1-ounce lead on their competition.
“I was nervous at takeoff,” Clepper said. “I thought we were going to get gapped by everybody; but when we got to our spot there was only one other boat there.”
Leaning on sage advice from their captain, Julian Clepper — Fallon’s father — the team weathered wracked nerves to boat a 12-pound bag on the final day for the win.
“We stayed on our juice the entire time today,” Ford said. “That was the only spot we consistently caught fish over 2 pounds, so we figured we would try to win it all and stay there all day.”
It didn’t take long for the team to launch themselves into serious contention for the crown on the final day.
At 6:40 a.m., Ford plunged a Zoom Trick Worm to the bottom of Pickwick Lake ledge on a shaky head jig. Its hook connected with a Tennessee River stud, and seconds later, a 7-8 largemouth crashed into the net held by his teammate’s father.
“I was thinking that we had been here before,” said Ford, a soft-spoken football tight end who kept his composure throughout the event. “I knew if we got it in the boat that we might have a shot.”
The fish was the largest landed in a tournament featuring 416 boats competing in the 2022 High School Bass Fishing National Championship. Combined with a pair of quality keepers from teammate Fallon Clepper, the Pickwick kicker was enough to outpace the pack and land the duo high school fishing’s highest honor.
In the process, Clepper, who started fishing competitively with her father at 11 years old, became the first female angler to ever win the High School Bass Fishing National Championship.
“I want to see more girls out here getting in it,” she said. “Just because a boy says you can’t do it doesn’t mean you can’t. Just keep after them.”
In a tournament fought out mostly under bluebird skies, slow current and brutal summer heat, Clepper and Ford’s single honey hole was productive enough to get the job done. Their story unfolded with a remarkable 18-8 bag on the first day that featured two 6-pound bass boated by Ford. Clepper, for her part, was a consistent force on the front of the boat adding and culling quality keepers, including a crucial 4-pounder, throughout the event.
“When we found the spot in practice, we drove over it with the graphs and saw a really big school of fish,” Ford said. “It was like something we had never seen before.”
Clepper and Ford began fishing together when their parents, who were childhood friends, reconnected at a meet-the-teacher event during their freshman year.
“I asked him if he was going to fish,” Clepper said. “He said ‘yes’ and that he didn’t have a partner, so we ended up together ever since then.”
Three years later, the two fishing-forged friends stood together on stage with one of bass fishing’s most famous rivers as a backdrop. At their feet lay massive checks totaling more than $250,000 in scholarship offers. The two most coveted trophies in high school bass fishing were hoisted above their heads. And in the crowd, a pair of overjoyed parents cheered feverishly for their kids.
“It doesn’t even seem real right now,” Clepper said. “I feel like I am in a dream. I have always dreamed of this day and it finally came true.”