It only took two weeks on the picturesque shores of Tahiti and Moorea to send Craig Stewart into a tailspin. He and wife Evelyn fell in love with the South Pacific’s crystalline waters and beachy breezes, so much so that the prospect of remaining in their native Oklahoma turned gloomy. Six years after the Stewarts’ Pacific vacation, they stumbled upon Sanibel Island. With a love for the waters still coursing through their veins, they uprooted and moved there, making it home base for Adventures in Paradise. In 1986, they started out with one boat—Miss Paradise—and one tour, the sunset dolphin cruise. Today, the Stewart family maintains a much larger operation. Their tour topics range from fishing and shelling to dolphin watching to historical sightseeing on a trolley.
At the helm of Mangrove Masters is Florida native and USCG-certified Captain Jack Boutchyard, who loves to introduce visitors to the waters he calls home—specifically those surrounding Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Captain Jack brings along all gear, including fishing licenses, rods, and bait for flats fishing charters that chase trout near the grass flats and redfish when the tide goes out. For a hands-off outing, the sunset cruise charts course toward a horizon bathed in soft pinks and purples, presenting a colorful backdrop for dolphins and manatees at play. Treasure hunters can also opt to meet Captain Jack on the dock for a short jaunt to the white, sandy shores of North Captiva Island, which is only accessible by boat and teems with riches such as conch shells, sand dollars, and buried chests filled with pirate baseball-card collections.
Captain Glen Brownlee was a born fisherman. Some say he was delivered at sea with only the crash of waves and the caw of gulls as his lullaby; others say he was raised by a wild pack of tackle bobbers until his 14th birthday. Regardless of the tall tales surrounding this Fort Myers native, one thing is certain: he took up the fishing pole at a young age, scouring local salt and fresh waters for the area's abundance of game fish. Twenty-five years later, Glen spearheads his own fishing company—Scales and Tails Charters—where he shares his lifetime of fishing expertise with others during trips across Southwest Florida waters. The seasoned sailor guides his Glen's 2005 Sea Chaser Flats boat to areas where fish are plentiful, so guests have a better chance of reeling in tarpon, redfish, and the rare but beautiful Chanel high-heeled boot. Not only does Glen provide his customers with professional G Loomis and St. Croix rods and with Daiwa and Quantum reels, he filets and packages their catches at the end of the trip himself.
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.
Helmed by U.S. Coast Guard–certified captains—each with at least 10 years' experience navigating the waterways of 10,000 Islands—Double R's fleet of seafaring skiffs ushers visitors along fishing charters, eco tours, and manatee-watching jaunts. Exploring an ecosystem rich with diverse wildlife inside the United States' largest mangrove jungle, guides point out manatees, tropical birds, alligators, and Swamp Thing's collection of Swamp Thing memorabilia. Fishing charters explore the complex systems of swamps and estuaries home to tarpon, snook, redfish, and grouper, while fishing guides provide their years of experience in angling from exceptionally maintained vessels in rich waters.