Let the Wood River Heal Itself

By Brian O’connor

Hexegenia limbata/Giant Yellow Mayfly – Photo by Paul Pezza

I live in close proximity to the Pawcatuck and have been paddling on it for about 40 years. Initially, it was receiving a nightly dose of industrial waste from three facilities. Two are now closed and the third has waste water treatment which is doing a reasonable job of keeping pollutants out of the river. I used to dream of this river being clean enough to hold trout, and over the 40 year time span this has become a reality. In the late 80’s the state began to stock hatchery fish regularly. There is no evidence that there is enough sustenance in the river or survivability in the hatchery fish to enable these fish to hold over.  Brook Trout drop down from tribs to seasonally make use of the river.


Black Quill/Leptophlebia cupida – Photo by Paul Pezza

What has been most encouraging is the resurgence of insect life to be found. This process began slowly with the appearance of White flies, a summer hatch which at first was spotty at best. Next, mahogany duns also made weak spring time showings. I am now seeing blanket hatches of Mahoganies and White flies which occur along the entire 7 mile stretch I frequent. There are, most surprisingly, 5 species of stone flies now hatching. Each year I see a smattering of other Mayflies, some which I have never seen elsewhere. The flood of 2010 was the cause of the seeding of the stone flies. Every time I now float the P I’m expecting to see a new species. How, on the other hand, have the insect hatches been doing over time in the sediment choked upper Wood? Is there any habitat left in the streambed for them. I’m asking seriously as I don’t fish there. Has the Hex hatch been living up to expectations. For the first time this spring the P had a good hatch of Black Quills. This insect should now become an early season staple. I have seen a smattering of Hex’s each summer for years and hope to live long enough to see the sky over the river choked with them. Rivers are constantly changing through the process of dynamic equilibrium. Why anyone could doubt that the upper Wood doesn’t embody the capacity to repair itself if just left alone is a true mystery to me. With the removal of dams and intelligent management I believe that the Wood can return to the Brook Trout stronghold I remember well. This is our hope and the goal of PRIBT. Let the Wood re-wild itself.


3 comments to Let the Wood River Heal Itself

  • brian o'connor

    Our best hope is that the SWAP process has brought to light the degrading of the Wood River and the status of species either threatened or endangered by the diminishment so clearly seen by us and so easily dismissed by others.

  • burt

    Discussions between PRIBT and its opponents at TU meetings and on Facebook have been held over the proposal for a brook trout refuge. The discussions get us nowhere !

    A large majority want to fish (for big fish) in the Wood River. We have identified the prices the river has paid in supporting them and their stocking largesse.

    The spokesmen for the majority say “there has been no such price.” That statement is like the cigarette industry’s multi-year campaign to keep its sales going. Long term fishermen have taken to the floor of RI TU chapter meetings to extol the constancy of the Wood River. “Nothing is wrong” they say, just like Philip Morris used to do.

    The stakes for the Wood River are much smaller than those in public health. But the analogy is apropos.

    I am reminded of that Pete Seeger Song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” about the perils of “pushing on” and about the lies and delusions that can persist in the face of reality. Discussions on the health of the Wood River date back years and have gotten river preservation nowhere. The fishermen of the Wood River are waist deep and they insist on pushing on.

  • burt

    Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
    Man never is, but always to be blessed:
    The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
    Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
    – Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

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