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Small Business Spotlight

Emerald Coast Bait & Tackle: By Fisherman, For Fisherman

Josh and Anna Calhoun have been entrepreneurs since 2012. They first created a photography business. A year after that, they created their charter boat business and in 2019, created Emerald Coast Bait & Tackle. That year they decided to concentrate only on the boats and the tackle shop and closed the photography business.

Josh had worked on charter boats since he was 14-years-old. He tried working on large boats but was gone days at a time. He and Anna decided they wanted to be their own bosses and spend time with their daughters. It took three years to become self-sufficient. During that time Josh worked part-time on other boats.

They had been talking about the shop for years. They saw a need for a one-stop shop for fishermen in Fort Walton Beach. Timing or money always stopped them from moving forward. But, in October, 2018, at 36 weeks pregnant, Anna and Josh decided it was now or never. Their daughter was born in November of 2018 and they opened the shop on March 16, 2019.

For the first year, they had business partners who also owned a charter boat business: Chris and Shelby Kirby. Having partners was the only way to make the business happen. Their partners worked as hard as Anna and Josh did. When it was time to expand, Chris and Shelby didn’t want to go forward, so Anna and Josh bought them out. They are still great friends today.

Anna and Josh knew boats and fishing, but figuring out retail was a tall learning curve. The hardest thing was the legal paperwork required. Anna says there was no Start a Tackle shop For Dummies available. Trial and error was the name of the game. They bought product they thought would move and it didn’t. Thankfully they made mistakes on a small scale because they were in a small place.

They started small with 1200 sf and grew out of the space in two years. They moved into 6500 sf in the same Mariner Plaza. Rolling carts down the plaza, three or four customers helped them move in one day.

Research included how to keep your bait alive, the longest. Bait is the biggest challenge they face. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates bait, both frozen and live. Shop owners are not allowed to buy anything for consumption by humans. Their shop could be randomly inspected to make sure there is nothing illegal in the bait tanks. Regulations include specific species and amounts. There are even different licenses for different species.

Anna and Josh came up with their slogan: “By Fishermen For Fishermen” because besides recognizing a need, they wanted to create something that would last. They wanted to create a community. Many customers come in to chat and show photos. They tag Emerald Coast Bait & Tackle on social media.

Fishing can be frustrating. Sometimes you don’t catch anything or don’t catch anything edible. There are different ways to catch fish. Different areas of Florida require different boats, lures, etc. Emerald Coast Bait & Tackle employees show potential fishermen how to tie the correct knot or use the right hook for example.

While Josh and Anna have been going coastal for years, they are going to launch a streaming series titled Going Coastal. It will air on Waypoint a streaming platform free for users. The first episode will air in February of 2024. Anna says it will help to further put Fort Walton Beach on the map. The series will include other boat owners and other business owners in Fort Walton Beach. The first series will include 10 episodes.

Anna emphasizes to other entrepreneurs to never give up, even when you are crying. “Definitely give it a solid three years,” she says. Three years gives you a full idea if you are going to be successful. She also says you should never be afraid to ask questions. People who are true entrepreneurs will be happy to answer questions.

Emerald Coast Bait & Tackle employs 20 people during peak season. Three of the original four employees are still with them.

The shop is located in Mariner Plaza, 218 Eglin Parkway NE Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547.