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Fishing the Housatonic River

The Housatonic River is one of Connecticut's most popular rivers for fishing, hiking along, camping, canoeing, and kayaking. Flowing from Pittsfield Massachusetts to Long Island Sound, it along with the Connecticut River are the only rivers to extend north to south across the entire state. There are pages and pages of information on the internet related to the history and the various resources the river has to offer. The purpose of this page is to provide information about the key sections of the river as it relates to CT's fishing regulations.

Contents:  

Video overview of the Housatonic River above the Riverine Impoundments

 

Este video le presentará uno de los ríos más pintorescos, hermosos y populares de Connecticut: el río Housatonic superior. Explicamos las reglas y regulaciones para la pesca y brindamos algunos consejos para recrear de manera segura y responsable. Para obtener más información sobre la pesca en Connecticut: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEPfishing

 

Tips and pointers for Trout Fishing in Rivers and Streams

 

Video on catching smallmouth bass in the Housatonic River

 

 

Section 1: State line to the top of Great Falls

This section of river is largely flat meandering water through an agricultural landscape. The statewide fishing regulations apply (meaning there are no special fishing regulations in this section), which offers excellent opportunity to catch Northern Pike, Common Carp, and Smallmouth Bass. Access can be obtained from the state land at the former Masonic Lodge in North Canaan or by the boat ramp at the top of Great Falls.

 

Section 2: Great Falls to the Route 7 and 112 bridge crossing

The Great Falls, name sake for "Falls Village", is a very popular location for folks looking to admire the steep fall line, as well as cool off in the summer months. There is a hydroelectric facility located about 1/2 mile below the falls. This section has public access via the Appalachian Trail, a picnic area near the First Light power plant, and a canoe launch on the upstream side of the Route 7 and 112 Bridge crossing. 

The upper part of this section, just below Great Falls, is mostly water-sculpted marble bedrock and is famous among skilled kayakers, known as the challenging "Rattlesnake" kayak run. The lower portion of this section is mainly shallow to moderate depth flowing water, suitable for wading in many locations. There are no special fishing regulations in this section, which offers excellent opportunity to catch Northern Pike, Common Carp, Smallmouth Bass, Fallfish, and an occasional trout (the section is not stocked).

 

Section 3: Route 7 and 112 bridge crossing to the Route 4 and 7 bridge crossing

One of the most popular fishing sections of the river, this section is a Trout Management Area with the lower three miles section designated as Fly-Fishing Only. There is ample access to the river throughout the entire section as it parallels Route 7 on the west and River Road on the east. 

In addition to fishing, this section contains the historic West Cornwall Covered Bridge, camping at Housatonic Meadows, and several hiking trails. There is access for cartop boats at the Housatonic Meadows State Park

 

Section 4: Dawn Hill Road to Skiff Mountain Road

Just a few miles below the Route 4 and 7 bridge crossing begins the "Stanley Tract", a section of river managed for Smallmouth Bass. Statewide regulations apply and the fishing can be exceptional. This section of river can make you feel like you are in a remote wilderness as there are no heavily traveled roads or bridge crossings in this stretch. The best access is via the dirt road off of Skiff Mountain Road in Kent. 

The Appalachian Trail follows the river bank for much of this section. Fishing is excellent for Smallmouth Bass, Fallfish, and the occasional trout (this section is not stocked).

Other key points of interest in this section include: Kent Falls State Park, Saint John's Ledges (trail), and the Appalachian Trail.

 

Section 5: Bulls Bridge Impoundment Dam to Route 7 crossing in Gaylordsville

This section begins with another impoundment used to generate electricity (although the powerplant is quite a bit down the road). The Bulls Bridge Covered Bridge provides a good landmark for many. This section starts off with impressive water-sculpted marble bedrock outcroppings and progresses to a scenic and remote section of moderate flowing water, where it is joined by the Tenmile River coming in from New York. The land in this section is largely owned by the National Park Service, Eversource, and First Light power company. 

Catch and release fishing is available year-round for both Trout and Smallmouth Bass as this section is the Bulls Bridge Trout and Bass Management Area.

 

Section 6: Route 7 crossing in Gaylordsville to the Bleachery Dam 

This is the final riverine section before the major lakes. It has a mix of moderate flowing water (upper section) to slow meandering waters (middle to lower sections). Anglers seek Smallmouth Bass, Common Carp, and Northern Pike in this section of the river. The Bleachery Dam is a low-head dam, which is a popular fishing spot. Please use extreme caution when fishing in this area as the flow over a low-head dam can be very dangerous and deadly.

 

Section 7: The Riverine Impoundments:  Lake Lillinonah, Lake Zoar, and Lake Housatonic

Each of the three large lakes (riverine impoundments) offer excellent recreational opportunities, including fishing. Species sought after and commonly caught include: Northern Pike and Tiger Musky (stocked in Lake Lillinonah), Walleye (stocked in Lake Zoar), Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, White Perch, Calico Bass, Common Carp, and a variety of sunfish. Access to each impoundment is primarily via the state boat ramps.

Swimming is allowed at Kettletown State Park and Indian Well State Park.

 

Section 8: Derby Dam to Long Island Sound

The final section of the Housatonic has a much different look and feel. Located near the mouth of the Naugatuck River, Derby, Ansonia, and Shelton are three communities tied to the rivers. Rich in industrial history, these communities have long relied upon the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers.

This entire section of river is tidal, and the lower end is brackish to salty. In addition to fishes moving downstream, anglers seek Striped Bass, which overwinter in the area, offering the unique chance to catch a "striper" just about any day of the year. Occasionally, an Atlantic Salmon, stocked well upstream in the Naugatuck River, will also be caught in this section. Access to the river can be found via municipal parks and land in Derby, Ansonia, Shelton, Stratford, and Milford. There is also a very popular access at both the west end of the dam (utility-owned) and the east end of the dam (state-owned).

 

Thermal Refuges: Keeping Trout Alive Through the Hot Summer Months 

Trout are a fish that require cold water year round. Unfortunately, the Housatonic River, like most medium to large rivers in Connecticut, often has water temperatures during the summer (June to September), which can be lethal for trout. Just like you and I, during the hot summer weather, we may seek the comfort of air conditioning. Trout do the same. The Housatonic River has many small feeder streams, which bring cold water from the hills to the river. Trout will seek these areas where these cold tributaries meet the warm Housatonic River to prevent becoming overheated and die. Please do your part to avoid going into these areas during the summer months, as any actions that make the fish swim out of the cold water into the warm water may be deadly. Fishing is prohibited from June 15 to September 15 each year.

 

Eating Fish from the Housatonic River

Due to a legacy of PCB pollution from General Electric in Pittsfield Massachusetts, the State of Connecticut's Department of Health has an advisory for eating fish from the Housatonic River and the three large impoundments. The advisory varies depending on your age, gender, and if you intend to bear children. The advisory is updated when new data is obtained. View the DPH Fish Consumption Advisory Page

In Closing 

The Housatonic River is slated to be recognized as a Federal "Wild and Scenic River". In addition to its scenic beauty, the river is home to numerous threatened or endangered species of plants and animals. Nesting bald eagles have returned, and industrial era contamination issues are in the final stages of remediation through the Federal Environmental Protection Agency's "Super Fund" process. The CT DEEP continues to implement remediation projects to restore the river to its full potential. We hope you are able to take advantage of the many natural resources the Housatonic River has to offer. It is truly a unique and special place.

 

Contact Us

CT DEEP Fisheries Division or 860-424-3474

CT DEEP Wildlife Division or 860-424-3011

CT DEEP State Parks or 860-424-3200

CT DEEP Boating Division or 860-434-8368

CT DEEP Law Enforcement Dispatch or 860-424-3333

 

Housatonic River Links (external organizations)

Housatonic Valley Association

Housatonic River Commission

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

First Light

 

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Please contact the Fisheries Division with any questions. 

Phone: 860-424-FISH (3474)
E-mail: deep.inland.fisheries@ct.gov

Content last updated in September 2021.