Landon and Logan
Hughson High’s DeKleva and Mason qualify for national bass fishing event in South Carolina

June 13, 2024

For the second year in a row, two of the best teen-age bass fishermen in the country are best friends who attend Hughson High School.

Logan DeKleva and Landon Mason are the California Student Anglers of the Year, qualifying them for the 15th annual High School Fishing National Championship tournament June 19-22 at Lake Hartwell in Anderson, S.C.

In 2023, the pair finished 41st out of 400 teams who qualified for the nationals, which were held on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisc. Their sights are set much higher this time.

“After Wisconsin, we said we’re going to try to win this thing no matter what it takes,” said DeKleva, who like his partner, will be juniors this fall. Both have 4.0 grade-point averages.

The two have been buddies for as long as they can remember. They credit their fathers for stoking their passion for fishing at a young age and they have fished together all over the state.

They were still in elementary school when Hughson High formed its Bass Club, partly at the urging of hometown pro fisherman Ish Monroe. Even though they were too young to join the club then, DeKleva and Mason remember attending the first Bass Club meeting organized by math teacher Dave Zylstra, who still advises the club today. DeKleva and Mason immediately signed up as freshmen and are among eight members today.

For California high school students, competitive bass fishing consists of five tournaments held from fall to spring. Fishermen compete as a team, with the total weight of the five biggest fish deciding the outcome. Credit also is given for each team’s heaviest fish, called the “kicker.”

DeKleva and Mason had a strong season. They won the tournament at Millerton Lake near Fresno in October, finished second twice and sixth another time. And even though they didn’t place in the fifth tournament, the other results were enough to propel them to first in the state and earn them a spot in South Carolina.

They spend so much time together – driving to and from competitions, then up to seven hours fishing daily – that they can finish each other’s sentences. They believe that their strengths as fishermen beautifully complement each other.

“I have the ability to put more fish in the bag,” explained Mason, “and he has the ability to catch bigger fish.”

One of their favorite tournament memories came last year on Lake Shasta. They weren’t having a great day and there was less than an hour left in the competition when DeKleva hooked and landed a 6-pounder.

“That brought us from like 20th place to second,” he said.

Added Mason: “Anytime we catch a big fish, we act like schoolgirls (and scream). It’s a big weight off our shoulders.”

Fishing can be tough – especially in unfamiliar waters – so “we try to stay humble and positive,” Mason said.

They prefer to pre-fish lakes when they can, but that’s not possible for the nationals. They’ve already been reviewing YouTube videos of previous bass tournaments at Lake Hartwell, a mammoth body of water on the Georgia/South Carolina border.

“It’s three times the size of Shasta, which is the biggest lake in California,” DeKleva said.

The national tournament begins June 19. A fishing friend from Tennessee is hauling his boat to South Carolina for DeKleva and Mason to use. He’ll also lend them 30 of his fishing poles. In the event, teams count their three biggest fish at weigh-in for the first two days, after which only the top 10 teams based on total weight advance to national finals on Friday. That day’s total weight will be added to the first two rounds to determine the champion.

There is a fourth day of fishing on Saturday where the top 10 teams, plus another 20 who qualify through “second-chance” status and one final team drawn randomly compete for a world title based only on the total weight of the fish caught that day.

It’s a little confusing to the uninitiated, but DeKleva and Mason know the task ahead of them. DeKleva figures it will take at least 10 pounds a day to make it to the finals.

Though they’re just entering their junior years at Hughson High, DeKleva and Mason already are looking ahead to college, where competitive fishing is a serious sport, especially in the South. They definitely want to stay fishing partners and have their eyes on two universities in Alabama – Auburn and Montevallo – that are known for their fishing teams and offer scholarships.

“If we make the top 10 or 15 at the nationals and win Angler of the Year in California two more years, we could have a shot at those two schools,” DeKleva said.