Retailer Spotlight: Estero River Outfitters, Florida

8-minute read

Estero River Outfitters is Southwest Florida’s largest dealer of kayaks, paddle boards and canoes. It’s one of the only paddle shops where you can always try a boat or paddle before you buy by launching right off their dock on the Estero River.

people in rental and demo kayaks on the dock from Estero River Outfitters

Demos and rentals straight off the dock at Estero River Outfitters

This shop specializes in fishing as well, with a full line of bait and tackle for fresh and saltwater fishing. You’ll also find all the kayak fishing gear you’ll need from boats to paddles to PFDs and more.

We sat down with owner Justin Stuller to learn more about the history of this family business and how they serve paddlers in Southwest Florida:

AQUA BOUND: Tell us about the history of Estero River Outfitters.

JUSTIN: I have two younger brothers, and the three of us are all involved in the business—the second generation. Our mother and father started in 1977 with a bait shop and canoe rentals.

Our mother is from Pennsylvania and our father is from Maryland. They came to this part of Florida for an easier life, to get away from the hustle and bustle of their corporate jobs up north to do something that seemed enjoyable. When they started there was really nothing here but some bars, some cow fields and a lot of fishing!

They found the Estero River and kind of took ownership of it, to help it become designated as a Florida State Canoe Trail. Kayaking was a specialty sport back in the 70s in this area so they started on the canoeing side of it.

We’ve evolved through the years to what we are today with over a thousand kayaks, canoes and paddleboards in stock. We do rentals, sales, classes and lessons. Every day we teach and inspire people to get on the water. My brothers and I are now raising our families in the same business, carrying on the legacy.

I’m 42 years old and have been in the business since I was born! I would get out of school and call my mom. She’d tell me to do my homework and then come put away boats. It’s something I really have a passion for. I do a lot of fishing myself—I’m a licensed captain and do a lot of guided kayak fishing and paddleboat fishing.

We fish all over the area from saltwater to freshwater—peacock bass, snook and reds and out into the Gulf for all the nearshore and offshore species. It’s work, but it’s really fun work! We’re a very blessed group of brothers for sure.

AQUA BOUND: What will folks find at your shop?

JUSTIN: We’re similar but different from other paddle shops around us. We often hear from our customers that we have so much stock and it’s all the best. We shy away from the box store stuff, the cheap stuff. We’ve tried to stay true to quality products.

Our customer service is our number one thing—it’s what we really pride ourselves on, making sure everyone gets the right thing. We don’t just want them getting out there, but getting out there with the right stuff. We have the answers for this world we’re in. And we hear all the time how great the staff on the dock is, the staff in the bait shop—everybody is so nice.

We fix things too. The knowledge we have being in this business for so long means there’s nothing we can’t fix. There are things we won’t fix—we’re not going to set somebody up to be unsafe. But when someone says they’re going to throw something away, we might have the other half of that or a piece they need. I’m a hoarder, as my wife would call me, so I’ve got parts and pieces from 20 years ago!

We’re just getting into the online sales world. I know there’s a need for it with our customers so we’re working towards that.

AQUA BOUND: You’re a rental shop as well as a retailer?

JUSTIN: Yes, we’re definitely not just a retail sales shop. In fact, I joke that retail sales are the secondary part of our business with rentals being our first. Rentals expose people to this beautiful sport we do.

It helps us put people on the water who may have never been in a paddle craft. To have them rent for the first time and then watch their journey as they evolve from boat to boat. We hear, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know kayaks could be like this! I didn’t know this kind of equipment existed.” That’s a daily thing for us.

kayakers on the Estero River

Renters can paddle the lovely Estero River

We have a huge inventory and we encourage people to come and try them all. We do free demos seven days a week and get people out there all day long. Some have done it their whole lives, others have never done it before.

Sometimes people will have been in the same boat for 20 years and say they’re done with kayaking. “It’s too heavy, it’s too this or too that.” Next thing you know they’re in something new and it restarts their whole journey out there.

Our main thing is getting people on the water to experience what we get to experience at work on a daily basis.

AQUA BOUND: Where do most of your customers and renters come from?

JUSTIN: This part of Florida is very season-driven. I’ve noticed over my years of being here that it rotates seasonally from our locals to what I call our “half-and-half” residents to out-of-town people and foreigners—the Canadians who come back and forth, and others.

We have such a wide range of people. Part of it is where we’re located. We used to be the small town between the bigger towns. Now we’re almost as big as the others. It’s where everybody seems to want to be nowadays. Naples is right down the road from us. Fort Myers is up on the coast above us and Miami is off to the other side of us.

All the paddling we have up and down our coast brings everybody in. So we really serve a wide variety of people in this area.

We’re just now getting done with Spring Break and are starting to see the locals come out again. So now we’re into our local season for everyone who lives here.

kayaks lined up on Estero River Outfitters' dock

Kayaks ready for rental and demo on the shop’s dock

AQUA BOUND: Tell us more about the classes and lessons you offer.

JUSTIN: We’re very hands-on with these. We have such a wide range of people that we talk to a person to find out what they want to learn. A lesson can be a 30-minute “demo/tutorial” on the dock with one of our staff members who’s either a lifelong paddler or a newer paddler who’s ACA trained. We take it in many different forms.

This being such a great fishing area, this goes into the fishing side of it, too. We get a lot of customers interested in lessons for kayak or paddleboat fishing.

We also do guided tours which many times turn into lessons for proper paddling technique.

AQUA BOUND: What’s the paddling like in your area?

JUSTIN: Our dock is on the Estero River and it’s about 4 miles to Estero Bay, which is the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. It’s one of the oldest aquatic preserves in the state of Florida, really an amazing place.

The fishing, the birds, the wildlife you see—dolphins and manatees—we call this the Estero Bubble. Sometimes you’ll see in the news the talk of red tide and Florida water quality that are unfortunate in our area. But here in the Estero Bubble, we rarely get hit with that.

Our river is what they call a spring-fed tidal river. We have a tide that comes and goes and we have consistent little springs throughout the river. With certain rains, these springs spit crystal-clear fresh water. Those flows keep our area here very protected. We rarely have the water quality issues the rest of the coast experiences up here in our river.

So when those things happen this is a great place to come. There are never days when people don’t go out there and rave about how pretty it is. It’s awesome.

The Keys are close by with some great paddling. And we’re expanding our business up in Matlacha. We just purchased some property there and will begin as a rental and demo center. Matlacha is on one of the islands near Cape Coral, a small little artsy town on the way to Pine Island and Bokeelia. We’ll do rentals and a lot of guided fishing out there.

AQUA BOUND: Why do you carry Aqua Bound paddles?

JUSTIN: Because we think they’re some of the best paddles on the market. The Sting Ray has been and will be our number-one rental paddle forever—it’s a great paddle. The designs are lovely, they fit people well. The durability is awesome from the highest end to the bottom end. They feel nice in your hands and we love the design that goes into the blades. We’ve had a great relationship with Aqua Bound as a company going way back.

AQUA BOUND: Any last words for our readers?

JUSTIN: If you’re ever in our area, even if you don’t have time to paddle, stop by and see us. It’s an awesome place just to check out. We’ve got big fish off our dock all the time. Our bait shop always has bait so you can feed the fish down here. It’s a great place to visit so come on by anytime!

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We love what Estero River Outfitters says on their website:

“Our goal is to connect you with the outdoor experience we live every day and make sure you have all of the latest and greatest gear to give you the best experience possible. We still believe in the value of brick-and-mortar and one-on-one service. See you on the river soon!”

A big thanks to Justin for his time with us! Go to Estero River Outfitter’s website for all the details.

All photos courtesy of Estero River Outfitters.

What paddling questions can our friendly Customer Service team help you with? Contact us here: 715-755-3405 or [email protected]

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