Report from the Field: Norwalk, CT

The crew heads down the Five Mile River on way to the Norwalk Islands
The crew heads down the Five Mile River on their way to the Norwalk Islands.

Day One

This report is being filed a bit later than most, but that should be understandable once you read about our many adventures during last week’s shoot in Norwalk. If you follow these reports, you’ll remember that Parker, Gene, Joe, Nick and I left Mattituck, New York, on Wednesday morning and crossed the Sound to Clinton Harbor, where we hauled the boat around noon and drove to the Norwalk village of Rowayton, about an hour west. There we checked in with Ted O’Neill of All Seasons Marine, which served as base camp for our Pursuit C260.

Parker interviews Kevin-Conroy of Rowayton Seafood Restaurant.
Parker interviews Kevin Conroy of Rowayton Seafood Restaurant.

Ted and his crew launched the Pursuit for us while we grabbed a late lunch at Rowayton Seafood Restaurant, overlooking the Five Mile River. Owner Kevin Conroy chatted with us about the history of the restaurant and shared some of his boating and fishing adventures while we dined on grilled calamari, oysters, fish and chips and more. The establishment features an adjoining seafood market, so the fish and shellfish are guaranteed fresh.

Parker and George paddleboard off Cockenoe Island.
Parker paddleboards off Cockenoe Island.

With a gorgeous afternoon staring us in the face, we returned to All Seasons, where Ted’s family (wife Keri and children Grace, George and Grady.) had gathered to show us the nearby Norwalk Islands. Having never boated in the Norwalk area, we were impressed by this archipelago of some 25 islands, most of which are open to the public. Boaters and kayakers can beach their vessels on many of the islands to swim, fish, camp, explore or picnic. It’s an amazing public resource, and reason alone to bring your boat to Norwalk.

The O’Neills brought us to Cockenoe Island (officially in the town of Westport), where we beached the Pursuit in a protected cove. While the O’Neill kids demonstrated their paddleboarding skills and tried fishing for snapper blues, I noticed some ugly-looking clouds to the west. A quick check of the radar confirmed that a large storm was moving in our direction, so we hastily called an end to our beach party, stowed the paddleboards and hightailed it back to Rowayton to put a wrap on Day One.

Day 2

Ian Devlin shows how it's done from the stern of the Pursuit
Ian Devlin shows how it’s done from the stern of the Pursuit.

It was an early morning for me, as I had a 6:00 fishing date with local guide Ian Devlin, who has fished the waters off Norwalk his entire life. Despite the summer doldrums, Ian put me on some fast action with striped bass at a nearby reef. The fish weren’t big, but we got some great footage of them smacking my Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow all over the place. Eventually we switch over to fly gear, so I could try out the new rod that Ian had developed for G. Loomis in conjunction with fly-fishing legends Mark Sedotti and Steve Rajeff. The rod is a 7 ½’ model with a unique taper that allows the angler to throw a fly line with less effort and without the need for a lot of false casting. I can vouch for its performance.

Sheffield Island Light
Sheffield Island Light.

With the fishing segment “in the can”, we dropped off Ian and headed back out on the Pursuit for a visit with Mark Schlegel of the Norwalk Seaport Association, which manages Sheffield Island Light. Mark allowed us to dock at the Sheffield Island pier (visitors can only drop off and pick up here) while he gave Parker and me a tour of the lighthouse and gave us some background on the Norwalk Islands in general. And yes, there was even some talk of lighthouse ghosts, and things got weird when a nearby door inexplicably slammed shut while we were filming. Just sayin’ is all.

Parker and Tom pose with Norwalk Harbormaster Mike Griffin
Parker and Tom pose with Norwalk Harbormaster Mike Griffin.

After bidding adieu to Mark we set a course for Norwalk Harbor, where we chatted with longtime harbormaster Mike Griffin about the convenient Visitors Dock, in the heart of the harbor. Boaters can tie up here on an hourly basis or overnight while they check out the local restaurants or the nearby Maritime Aquarium. Cost is $1 per foot. The facility is also home to a big launch ramp with ample parking and floats.

A tasty whole-belly clam platter at SoNo Seaport Seafood.
A tasty whole-belly clam platter at SoNo Seaport Seafood.

With our stomachs growling for sustenance, we idled over to the opposite side of the harbor and docked at the SoNo Seaport Seafood Restaurant, where Parker interviewed general manager Jack Cutrone about this venerable Norwalk Harbor dock-and-dine option. If you like fried whole-belly clams, lobster rolls, fish-and-chips and the like, this is your kind of place. Oh, and the French fries rated close to perfection!

Aboard the 1926 oyster vessel Mary Colman.
Aboard the 1926 oyster vessel Mary Colman.

Whole-belly clams aside, Norwalk is more famous for its Blue Point oysters, and we got to see how these celebrated shellfish are harvested and processed at our next stop: Copps Island Oysters, where owner Norm Bloom himself gave us an extensive tour of the East Norwalk facility. But the best was yet to come, as Norm arranged for us to climb aboard one of his oyster dredge boats for a look at how the bivalves are harvested from the ocean. It was a fascinating experience. At the end of the session, the entire crew got to sample some Blue Points, straight from the sea.

Dinner at Harbor Lights in East Norwalk
Dinner at Harbor Lights in East Norwalk.

By the time we dropped off Norm at his dock, it was late afternoon, so we ran back to Rowayton, freshened up at our hotel then drove to the SoNo district, which bustles with nightlife and restaurants of every description. Then we headed across the river to East Norwalk for an amazing dinner at the Harbor Lights Restaurant and an interview with owner Chris Gavrielidis. We dined on all sorts of delicious fare, much of it inspired by Chris’s Greek heritage. Dishes included grilled octopus, lobster Santorini, Mediterranean sea bass, swordfish and more. We barely had room for our desserts of crème brule, ekmek, an Key Lime pie—barely.

Day 3

Gene shoots the Norwalk Aquarium from the water
Gene shoots the Norwalk Aquarium from the water.

By Friday morning we had more than enough Norwalk footage to fill a 2-hour program, but we had one more stop to make: the Maritime Aquarium, just across the river from the Visitors Dock. Waiting for us were Cathy Hagadorn and Chris Lloynd, who showed us the aquarium’s many exhibits. The aquarium is unique in that it focuses mainly on Long Island Sound, with tanks containing everything from jellyfish to huge sand tiger sharks. We also saw seals, sea ravens, Atlantic salmon, herring, striped bass and more. The aquarium also has a boat that takes groups into the Sound for hands-on educational trips, and is expecting delivery of a brand-new vessel this fall.

The Pursuit is loaded onto its trailer by crane at All Seasons Marine.
The Pursuit is loaded onto its trailer by crane at All Seasons Marine.

We could have spent several more hours exploring the aquarium, but we had to haul the Pursuit and get on the road. So we drove back to All Seasons, where Ted O’Neill had our boat plucked from the water by crane and loaded onto its trailer. That was a new one for us, but that was only fitting given that this episode was filled with firsts. It should be a great one!

New England Boating TV, sponsored by GMC and Pursuit Boats and their network of New England dealers. Coming to  NESN this Fall. Stay tuned for a complete listing of dates and times.