Cast Away – the Norwalk River is an angler’s dream
“Many people are surprised to discover that the Norwalk River is home to excellent trout fishing,” says Gerald Berrafati, a licensed fishing guide and a member of the board of directors for the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “I’ve run into caddisfly and sulphur hatches on the Norwalk that rival the ‘glamour hatches’ on Connecticut’s Farmington and Housatonic rivers.”
Berrafati believes the gleeful surprise among anglers is because the Norwalk River is “so small and unassuming.” Averaging just 20 to 30 feet across and only a few feet deep in most spots, the Norwalk River is a “very intimate experience,” says Berrafati. “Casting conditions are close quarters. However, because of the great public access on the river throughout the town of Wilton, you can get to fast and deep runs where trout love to feed along its entire stretch.”
Having developed a close relationship with the river during his teenage years, Barrafati became involved with the Mianus Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a local, grassroots, cold-water fisheries conservation group that is heavily involved with improving trout habitat on the Norwalk River in Wilton. He says that he’s, “giving back to the river that has treated me so well my whole life.” Trout Unlimited removed two dams on the river last summer, restoring 20 miles of cold-water habitat to the Long Island Sound.
Drew Cummins has been fly fishing the Norwalk River for the past seven years. His favorite spots to cast a line are by the dam near the Merwin Meadows trails. “Trout love the bottom of the dam. Also, right at the mouth of the trail under the bridge is a great spot. Late summer and early fall are the best times to fish these areas.” He adds, “People are surprised to find out there is great fly fishing in Wilton because they just don’t expect there to be such a great river with such beautiful fish in the heart of town.”
The Norwalk River is stocked by the state of Connecticut with brown, rainbow, and brook trout. However, when fishing the Norwalk, don’t be surprised to catch a larger multi-year holdover or brood-stock fish that are put in the river at five to ten pounds.
The Norwalk River is also home to a sizable population of wild brown trout. According to Jeff Yates, Director of Volunteer Operations at Trout Unlimited, wild brown trout of 20 inches or more, have been observed by state biologists in the river. Such wild trout have been wiped out from many Fairfield County rivers due to increased development and competition with stocked trout and warm water species. Sadly, because the Norwalk is a “suburban river,” wild brown trout are threatened by runoff from parking lots along Route 7.
Favorite stretches among fishermen are along the Norwalk River Valley Trail near the Merwin Meadows Park. Some of the best fishing starts from the wooden bridge to the right of the trail-head kiosks. The river then runs through a series of riffles and pools to behind the Merwin Meadows pond, where there is a deep bend pool behind the bathhouse that holds large trout. The Merwin dam is the last remaining dam on the river that posts a barrier to spawning trout. But following spring stockings, the dam makes for some superb fishing. The river fishes very well above the dam all the way towards Cider Mill School, and along Route 7 heading up to the Wilton YMCA.
Schenk’s Island in the center of town is another hot spot. “There are numerous runs, riffles, and deeper pools where trout like to hold,” says Berrafati. “Aside from the great fishing, the beauty of trails running through the meadow makes you feel like you’re somewhere out west. It’s a perfect place to spend the afternoon fishing, and then grab a bite to eat in town.”
His favorite flies to lure trout to rise are black/olive/white wooly buggers fished “dead drifted under an indicator,” or “stripped in” like a streamer. For nymphs, tried and true classics like black/golden stonefly patterns, pheasant tails, green caddisfly larva, hare’s ear, and prince nymphs produce strikes. “I’ve started using more unconventional patterns like the squirmy worm, and mop fly with great success,” says Berrafati.
The Norwalk River is a hidden suburban trout fishing gem. Who would have thought?