Record Seven Fish Limit Caught In Florida Waters
By Greg McCain
ACC Crappie Stix pro staffer Nick Whitten has certainly enjoyed his share of success in competitive crappie fishing, performing well in local, regional, and national tournament settings.
Never, however, have all the elements lined up as they did in the recently completed Crappie USA Winter Series Classic on the St. Johns River in east-central Florida. Nick, who lives in Lakeland, and his cousin and regular tournament partner MIke Kirkland did not just win the tournament. They overwhelmed the field and eclipsed the record for the heaviest-ever seven-fish limit caught in Florida waters.
The team led the first day of the tournament with a personal-best, seven-fish limit of 15.73 but saved the best for the second round of the two-day event. On the second day, they boated seven more Florida black crappie – specks to some and simply crappie to Nick – for a record 16.77 pounds. That total bested the 16.24 limit caught by friends of Nick’s in a tournament two years ago.
“All the stars lined up,” Nick said. “I feel like it was one of those things that was meant to be at that time. We’ve been working hard at it for several years. It all came together in an unbelievable way.”
Nick and Mike relied on a collection of pre-tournament knowledge, successful pre-fishing, and perfect weather conditions to arrive at the record total. They found pre-spawn and possibly spawning crappie on the main river between the cities of Astor and Palatka, focusing almost exclusively on docks. Weigh-ins for the event were held in Palatka, just under two hours north of Orlando.
“We fish the St. Johns several times a year,” Nick said. “We do put a lot of time in up there and are constantly trying to learn new things. Two years ago, Mitch McGill and Daniel Pitts weighed in seven fish in a tournament in December that weighed 16.24 pounds. That was the largest limit in Florida as far as records can show. I’m good friends with them as far as how they caught them and the general area they came from. I was going to figure that area out.”
Nick spent time on the St. Johns later that year and returned in December 2023 preparing for a tournament. Nick and Mike caught their personal best limit of about 13 ½ pounds in that event, but to show the potential of the fishery, they only finished third. This time around, the timing was just right.
“The late great (Florida crappie legend) George Parker always told us that if a tournament came to Palatka at the right time that it would take 15-plus pounds to win,” Nick said. “So I had that in my mind, and I went up there looking for them.”
Nick knew he had found the right fish while pre-fishing early in the week. Later, he checked Crescent Lake, one of many offshoots of the St. Johns, and found quality fish there as well. The subsequent days of pre-fishing suggested that the main-river docks were the best bet for a mega bag.
“I took the week off from work to practice,” Nick said. “My prominent targets were the docks on the river from Astor north all the way to Palatka. I had in my mind to check every dock from Astor to Palatka in my three days of practice. I almost accomplished that.”
Nick found two-plus-pound specks on just about every dock with multiple fish holding around them. While the black crappie can be finicky in Florida during the winter, the bite was hot in the ideal weather conditions, which peaked with a high of 85 degrees on the first tournament day.
“The water temperature was bumping up about two degrees or so per day,” Nick said. “When I started practicing, it was about 57, and it reached almost 70 by the tournament.”
Typical of tournament fish, the crappie almost disappeared for Nick and Mike on the first day. They put together a limit of “the right fish,” and they led by just over a pound after day one.
“The fish were gone, absolutely gone in some places,” Nick said. “I think we caught nine fish all day, but they were the right ones.”
The fishing was so tough that Nick and Mike planned to fish in Crescent Lake on the second day.
“We roll into Friday night, and our spots were burned up,” Nick said. ‘They were not good. We make a battle plan that we’re going to Crescent Lake. I think our lead was 1.14. We thought we could catch enough in Crescent to win the tournament.
“We wake up Saturday morning, and it’s drizzling rain, nasty,” Nick said. “(Mike) says, ‘We can’t go to Crescent. We’ve got to give our docks at least three hours. At 10 o’clock, it they’re not good, we can go to Crescent. We can be at Cresent in 20 minutes’.”
The docks, some in as little as three feet of water out to about 10, provided more than enough fish, however. They caught two-pounders on a couple of stops early and then found a magical dock that yielded over 20 fish, all two pounds or better.
“When I tell you the stars lined up, the first dock that we pulled up to I catch a two-plus,” Nick said. “I don’t even see it on the LiveScope. I just shoot up under there, and it’s there. I looked under there again, and there’s one about the same spot and the same size. I shoot up there and catch it, another one two-plus pounds.”
The pattern continued with more solid specks growing their total. The magical spot bumped them up near their final weight.
“We were throwing 2s and 2.05s back,” Nick said. “When we left that dock, our next cull was a 2.14.”
They later culled with a 2.48 and a 2.25, which Mike actually caught in some pads away from the docks.
“On our scales, we had about 15 ½ pounds at about 11:30 in the morning,” Nick said. “We start scratching our heads. What do we want to do? Do we want to go get pizza? We’re in Florida, and our next cull is a 2.14.”
Later he added, “Throwing back two pounders (in Florida) is like being on Grenada and throwing three-pounders back. I’ve never had a day like that in Florida.”
The only complication was some momentary motor problems. Once they worked out the mechanical issues, they made the decision to head in.
“Once we got the motor started, Mike said, ‘Don’t stop until we get to the ramp’.”
Nick said several factors figured into their winning total. While not originally designed for the purpose, Nick said the relatively new ACC Crappie Stix 7’1” one-piece model makes for “an awesome dock-shooting rod.”
In addition to the ACC rods, the team found the perfect lure for the fishery, combining a new plastic color from Gunslinger Tackle with 1/16 jig heads in Pimp Daddy purple from JB’s Custom Crappie Jigs (follow JB’s Custom Crappie Jigs on Facebook).
“Gunslinger is a new plastics sponsor that came on board this year,” Nick said. “They make a great product that is durable and catches fish.
“I worked with them on this particular color. I told him I wanted a plastic body based on the original blue-back and chrome-sided Rat-L-Trap. Every fish that I put it in front of over five days ate it. I didn’t have a single fish in practice or in the tournament that refused to eat that bait.”
The color is yet to be named but look for it soon on Gunslinger sites (Gunslinger Tackle Co on Facebook or www.stumpthumpn.com.).
Nick said a final variable – one becoming more and more unusual in the fishing world – worked into the winning equation during the tournament.
“That’s the amount of nice people that we met,” he said. “We’ve heard life stories and met some awesome people fishing this tournament. On the dock where I caught the 2.44, there was a man sitting there with cane poles minnow fishing. We asked him, ‘Do you mind if we shoot some jigs up here?’ He said yes and we started catching fish.
“If he had said no, I would have gone on, but the people we encountered were great the whole week.”
Nick, who creates digital content and guides under the name of Crappie Adventures (follow Crappie Adventures on Facebook for more info about guide trips and Florida crappie fishing), said he might never experience another week of fishing as he did on the St. Johns. But for a few days, the perfect storm of Florida crappie fishing materialized.
“I had a good feeling about the tournament, knowing the location and what could be done there,” Nick said. “I had a really good feeling. It worked out about as well as possible.”