Estero River Outfitters's tackle-and-bait shop equips amateur and experienced fishermen alike with a plethora of gear for adventurous outings along the nearby river. A varied selection of bait helps fishermen angle big catches with saltwater shrimp ($3.79/dozen), freshwater shiner minnows ($7.99/dozen), and night crawlers ($3.75). High-pitched Scotty crank whistles ($5.09) can be used to signal distress or to call unsportsmanlike conduct on an encroaching alligator and fillet/bait kits arm fish-preparers with two stainless-steel knives, a sharpening stone, and handled cutting board ($9.95). The Otterbox 3500 ($27.95), which can withstand up to 100 feet of water pressure, provides an airtight enclosure to keep cell phones, wallets, and other personal items dry.
Yellow and orange kayaks drift along the protected estuary of Estero Bay. They're maneuvered by small groups of kayakers led by an experienced guide who points out the multitude of wildlife surrounding the group. The certified naturalists pick out the dolphins, manatees, and wild birds as well as impart knowledge about the surrounding eco system.
Manatee Guides' conservation-minded experts escort kayakers throughout Southwestern Florida's waterways to observe manatees and other native species in their natural environments. During nature tours, guides lead guests throughout Estero Bay and the Orange River, scouring the crystalline waters for a sight of the peaceful animals. Guides point out local flora and fauna along the way, sharing interesting facts about their life cycles, social patterns, and affinity for fast food cheese-barnacles. Manatee Guides' owners and operators adhere to a strict conservation policy, leaving no trace of their journey in the wild. Up to 12 people venture out on each tour, and the guides encourage ample sunscreen and protective apparel such as a hat, shoes, and clothes that can get wet without melting.
The instructors at Sweetwater Paddlesports must have a natural affinity for the water and have nurtured passions for sports ranging from surfing and wakeboarding to boating. Drawing from these combined experiences, they've channeled their efforts almost entirely toward introducing others to standup paddleboarding. In group or private lessons, they introduce basic techniques for balance and maneuvering and what to do at a red light. To supplement this aquatic-sports training, Sweetwater also coordinates on-water standup-paddleboard yoga and fitness classes. The company's fleet—which can be picked up or delivered for rental—includes standup paddleboards by makers such as Tahoe and One World and kayaks by Jackson and Feel Free.
Allison Call and her brother Bo Browne, who both spent their youth fishing and kayaking in Southwest Florida's backwaters, have always talked about starting a business together. In 2012, they decided to turn talk into action with the help of their spouses, opening the family-run Bonita Kayak Company. They not only rent out next-to-new kayaks, most of which are outfitted with comfortable, high-backed seats, but also share their love for Florida's outdoors during guided treks and other outdoor expeditions.
During fishing tours, Bo expertly guides groups to the best spots and offers tips to reel in premium catches such as large-mouth bass, catfish, and tires from a Mercedes-Benz. The team delivers recreation or fishing kayaks anywhere within its delivery area, but one of its favorite drop-off points is at the Imperial River, which offers tranquil paddling beneath mangrove trees. "It's very cool because it's kind of an Amazonian atmosphere,” says Allison’s husband and business partner, Jacob. He also recommends the New Pass drop-off, which has easy access to the gulf and white sand beaches, where kayakers have a good chance of spotting dolphins, manatees, and Moby Dicks under witness-protection programs.
Jacob says that he and the rest of the team pride themselves on being personable and taking the time to connect with their customers. Running the business as a family has given them more time to spend with one another—and Jacob says that they have fun with it. "I consider myself extremely lucky to go kayaking and call that my job," he says.
Staff Size: 2?10 people
Average Duration of Services: 2?4 hours
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Brands Used: All
Recommended Age Group: All ages
Pro Tip: Be ready for adventure.
Most Popular Attraction/Offering: Manatees, dolphins, and gators.
Jeremy Howard puts his knowledge as a master naturalist to use as a tour guide for Nature Tours and More. To him and his fellow guides, the rivers, lakes, wetlands, and seas of Southwest Florida tell a story about the creatures that live there, and where to find them. The guides lead groups of visitors on kayak-bound tours of local habitats, spotting everything from manatees and dolphins to gators and bats. They visit locations such as splendid mangrove tunnels and lagoons, as well as barrier islands against which the Gulf water splashes.
Because they lead such a varied array of tours, they often launch from different locations, but they accommodate guests by providing shuttle service to and from remote launching points. They also make sure to train guests in how to guide the kayak and outfit them with important safety equipment such as life vests and mosquito forcefields, once they're done being invented.