Are There Wild Trout in Rhode Island?

Bob Mallard

I received an email via the NFC contact screen last week that stated, "Rhode Island is not a trout state and although we do have some native populations the fly fishers here depend on stocking non natives."

With out [sic] said stockings we would have no trout at all.

The email went on to say, "With out [sic] said stockings we would have no trout at all."  It ended with the comment, "You people who are blessed with wild trout should count yourself a lucky and leave the less fortunate states to manage their own fisheries."

Interestingly, NFC has no presence in Rhode Island, has not undertaken or even got involved in any projects in Rhode Island, is not affiliated with any groups in Rhode Island, and have really not talked about Rhode Island much at all. 

While not a "trout state" in the way that Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, or Colorado are, or even Maine, Pennsylvania, or New York, there are wild trout in Rhode Island.  In fact, there are wild native brook trout -- and apparently even some rare sea-run brook trout. 

Thanks largely to the efforts of Protect Rhode Island Brook Trout (PRIBT), the states wild brook trout have been front-and-center for several years now.  This small group of conservationist/sportsmen are trying to establish a wild brook trout management area on the upper Wood River, the state's finest trout river.

Sadly, there has been a lot of resistance and far too little support for PRIBT's proposal.  This is partly due to the fact that the Wood River is Rhode Island's most popular stocked trout fishery, and partly due to folks like the author of the afformatentioned email who don't believe it's possible or even desirable to have wild native brook trout in Rhode Island.

I don’t believe in saving stunted Brook Trout that will never grow.

I say "desirable" because the author replied to my question, "Wouldn't that [wild brook trout] be a great addition to the standard put-and-take fishing?", with the answer, "I don't believe in saving stunted Brook Trout that will never grow and the people that pay for licenses would say no also."  

Curious as to what the author of the emails was all about, I went to his Facebook page and scrolled down through the tabs.  He had fisherman friends, posted fly fishing and fly tying pictures, and liked fishing books, movies, and TV shows.  And while not just trout, he appeared to be primarily focused on trout.

I also found a number of "check-ins" to monthly meetings of a local trout conservation group.  While I couldn't find anything on their site that linked the author to group, expanding my research to other media outlets and groups uncovered the following: "I am president of the xxxxxxx chapter ### of xxxxxxx."

While the author appears to be a past not present president, other names I saw were familiar.  One was a gentleman who contacted me soon after a rather heated public debate on the www regarding the merits of the PRIBT Wood River proposal and his groups refusal to support it.  Their reason for not supporting it did not change my mind.   

To be fair the Wood River is a complicated issue due to its popularity with anglers and the fact that it's the states premier stocked trout fishery.  In fact, it was the only water in RI covered in my book, "50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast."  The Wood River is to Rhode Island what the Swift River is to Massachusetts.     

But the Wood River is also RI’s finest wild native brook trout fishery and therefore absolutely worthy of absolute protection.

But the Wood River is also RI's finest wild native brook trout fishery and therefore absolutely worthy of absolute protection.  And while I might have tried to win some smaller victories before going after the big prize, as a native trout advocate I can't in good faith not support the proposal now that it is out there. 

So the questions is this...  Is there room for wild native brook trout in Rhode Island?  Is there support for wild native brook trout in Rhode Island?  Is there a compromise position?  Some line in the sand that would satisfy all stakeholders?  Can the two sides find a way to provide the Rhode Island angler with something other than stocked nonnative fish? 

Clearly PRIBT has their work cut out for them.  There seems to be a lack of appreciation for wild native trout in the Rhode Island, as there is in many other states.  And many of those who should care about wild native fish appear not to.  Or maybe it's just a lack of familiarity with something truly special: Wild native trout.