The mammoth trout that dwell in a stretch of the Saugatuck River, just off Ford Road, are a well-kept secret, according to one angler.

"It was unbelievable," said Patrick Fowler of Greenwich, who helped Jeremiah Krasowski of Sandy Hook haul in two enormous trout during a recent outing at the sylvan fishing spot, each of which they estimated weighed about 12 pounds.

"I just started running down the bank to help," Fowler said, calling the trout the catch of a lifetime. "These fish were huge, and not a mark on them. They were beautiful."

But after taking a few pictures of his trophy trout with his phone, Krasowski carefully released each fish back into the river, where they swam back into hiding in the cold river's currents.

"If more people caught and released them, these fish would be here year-round for people to come catch and have some fun," Krasowski said. "It's a beautiful fishery they have here."

Though catch-and-return fly fishing is permitted year-round, the official season began anew on the third Saturday in April after the state's program to replenish trout stock, including brook, brown and rainbow. With the season's start, fishermen are allowed to keep their catches.

But for many who pass recreational time in the popular spots west of Glendenning, the sport of catching the fish is, in itself, enjoyment enough to take home.

"It's all about getting that fish to take your fly, especially if you've made it yourself," Krasowski said. "It's fooling these smart fish, outwitting them."

For him, the sport and science of choosing the right spot and the right fly constitute a pursuit he's enjoyed 15 years, thanks in part to the mentoring of veteran fishermen along this river.

For others, it represents an opportunity to be outside and enjoy quiet time in a natural setting.

"I like the quiet, the peacefulness," said Michael Abramowitz of Stratford, who like many on the river this day, belongs to Trout Unlimited -- a conservation-minded clud for fishing aficionados, which has chapters throughout the country.

"I got hooked on fly fishing probably about eight years ago," he said. "I used to do saltwater fishing quite a bit."

"It's my Zen moment," said Al George of Stamford, who has fished here for 30 years.

"It gets me out into the open space in the nice woods," he said, "the flora and the fauna and all that stuff. It's very relaxing."

"It's a much more esoteric way to catch fish," George said of fly fishing. "For instance, I'm using a lure that represents a natural insect."

"There's nothing like catching a brown trout on a fly that you've tied," he said. "That's the hardest thing there is to do."

Kaitlin Flinn of Westport grew up fishing on Long Island Sound, but never tried using the fly fishing equipment her grandfather left her until this spring.

"I grew up practicing fly fishing in my yard and I finally got the guts to come out here," said the Staples High School graduate, still looking forward to her first catch.

Men and women of all ages quietly find spots along the river on a sunny afternoon, including 73-year-old Carole Grob of Westport, who has enjoyed the sport for close to 15 years and ties her own flies.

"That makes it even more fun," she said, as well as adding to the challenges.

"It's relaxing," she said, and it's a less-taxing activity she can continue to pursue as she gets older.

"It's a nice sport," she said. "You just need time, and this is a good time of life for me."

Along with his love of the sport, which began when he was 5 years old, Fowler is also a trained marine biologist and environmentalist. He sees this as an opportunity to interact with the natural world.

"Most of the fishermen around here are conservation-minded," he said. "It's all catch and release."

"These are critical habitats," he said of the region's rivers, "and these fish are some of the most beautiful creatures in the world."