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Feelin’ the reelin’ rush with Emma Calantoni

Emma Calantoni (@EmmaCalantoni on Instagram) was “accidentally born” in Lakeland, Florida.

“My parents were on vacation and my mom went into labor,” she says.

Once Emma was ready to travel, the family headed back to their home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

“I’ve been fishing for as long as I can remember,” Emma says. “I remember fishing on the rivers and lakes back in Wisconsin when I was a little girl.”

When she was five years old, Emma’s family moved back to the state where she was born and settled in the Tampa Bay area, where she has taken every advantage of the fishing opportunities the region has to offer.

“I grew up fishing on the Bay and fishing offshore,” she says. “But my favorite has always been inshore fishing — snook, trout, tarpon, trout, redfish… you know.”

Now a nursing student at the University of South Florida and holding down two hospital jobs, Emma still manages to find time for fishing.

“I try and get out at least a couple times a week,” she says. Somehow, she even finds time to travel and fish.

“I fished in the Bahamas, Costa Rica… places like that,” Emma says. “I love to travel.”

Although she doesn’t own a boat, Emma has strong ties with the area’s tight-knit fishing community.

“My step-dad is one of the top charter captains on Tampa Bay, and I crewed for him,” she says. “And I have friends and family who have boats. Alternating between friends and family, I can almost always find someone who’s heading out to fish.”

And for Emma, there’s nothing like chasing snook.

“I love the challenge that snook present,” she says. “The way they fight, the way they act. They’re not like redfish which will eat just about any bait you put in front of their nose. Snook are very particular about the bait, the way it’s presented, the color of the line — even your movement on the boat.”

Emma prefers to throw live bait to the snook with her St. Croix Avid/Quantum Smoke rig.

“We catch our own bait, like pilchers, with a cast net,” she says. “We sight cast when we can see them, but we know where the spots where the snook like to go when they’re hiding.”

When the snook aren’t eating, Emma will check out beach nooks, rocks, stone structures — even bridges — and the Gulf Coast’s mangroves.

In spite of her years of snook fishing experience, Emma isn’t satisfied.

“I’ve caught literally hundreds of snook,” she says. “But I still haven’t landed that superstar trophy — and I’m going to keep going until I get it. It’s not as easy to catch a big snook as it is to catch a big redfish.” (She’s landed a 42-inch bull red.)

Last winter, Florida’s snook — an extremely temperature-sensitive fish — suffered a brutal kill-off during a cold snap.

“They’ve bounced back pretty well, though,” Emma says. “Even so, we always tend to release them — even a slot fish during season — unless a client wants to keep it. So many people harvest them, both legally and illegally, that we like to do our part to keep the population doing well.”

This conservation orientation is one of the things she loves about the folks who fish Tampa Bay.

“I love the fishing community here,” Emma says. “It’s small, but we’re a close group and they make fishing in this area an incredible experience.”

But it’s more than the community that drives Emma to get out on the water as often as she does.

“It’s like fishing is an addiction,” she says. “It’s a drug. The rush I get when I catch a fish — especially a big fish — is something that nothing else can give me. There’s nothing else like it.”

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