I call the Housatonic River—the upper section in northwest Connecticut—the Western river closest to my home in the East. Many times while fishing there, I’ve thought it resembled one—tumbling in places, placid in others, with a broad smoothness that reminds me of a Wyoming trout river. Yet it is distinctly New England, nestled in the crook of the soft, green, limestone-rich hills of Litchfield County.
The entire river valley, from the Berkshires in Massachusetts to its mouth on Long Island Sound, is a diverse and fantastic fishery. Small tributaries in Litchfield County like Gunn Brook or Furnace Brook are loaded with wild brookies and browns, and truly big fish can be found downstream, below the Stevenson Dam, in Monroe (I once saw my friend Mike Klubec catch a nine-pounder there). And the tidal area from the dam in Derby, Connecticut, to the mouth in Stratford is one of the best grab-bag fisheries in New England. In the same day, I’ve seen anglers land trout, largemouth bass, shad, eels, striped bass, and a herring. The whole valley is surprisingly wild, too. Down in a hollow, in the cool shadows, the whoosh of the river and the dense summer foliage can erase the civilized world. One night, an old-timer casting for white perch near Stevenson Dam told me he’d seen a mountain lion the evening before. It had run down the river to take a drink, he said, and run back up into the woods. It’s a magical place—why not?
But it’s the upper Housey, near Cornwall, that inhabits anglers’ dreams. Seekers of this stretch court it like a fickle lover. While the insect hatches are prodigious, it always seems to be running too high or too cold in the spring, or too warm and low in the summer, and in the fall, the water levels and temperatures are good, but a line can get tangled on floating leaves and pine needles.
I’ve been fishing the Housey for nearly twenty years. How many times have I hit it just right? Well, there was one day. It was a warm and sunny June afternoon, and I had just graduated from high school. On a long quiet pool, a monumental hatch of caddis flies erupted. The trout were rolling like porpoises, their broad backs surging above the water, to gulp down the flies. Some were jumping clear out of the water. I remember one catch in particular. It was a beautiful seventeen-inch brown with a fat egg-yolk-yellow belly, rich blue-purple sides, and an olive-green back covered in pea-size black spots. Fish like this are hard to come by on the Housey. That’s the point: Great rivers don’t easily yield their charms.
Details: The upper Housatonic River is about a two-hour drive from New York City. Housatonic River Outfitters in Cornwall Bridge (860-672-1010) offers gear, guides, and a wealth of local knowledge.