Bemus Point Author Publishes New Book On Lake

Book cover of “Coops, Spears and Fish Decoys”.

Bemus Point author Fletcher Ward has published a new book in his ongoing series looking at Chautauqua Lake.

Ward has published six history books overall since he began writing them. The newest book is called “Coops, Spears and Fish Decoys; The History of Muskellunge Spearing on Chautauqua Lake.”

The book focuses on early settlers in the area who came to farm while trying to make money and were not very successful.

“They bought land from the Holland Land Company,” Ward said. “When they didn’t have enough to pay it off, they resorted to things like farming. They also would cut down white pine which was in our area and float it down the river all the way to New Orleans and sell it there, and then they would walk back. They would also do things like burning birch trees to make ash to be used in things like glass making or as a leveling agent for bread.”

Ward added that while the settlers had a lot of ways to make money, most were very labor intensive. The average person earned around $475 a year during that time. This is where the muskellunge fishing came into practice.

“They started going out onto Chautauqua Lake and spearing muskellunge,” Ward said. “This brought in at least another $20 a day. They borrowed the practice from the Senecas and other Indians. Techniques they used were, they would go out on the lake at night with a bright light to attract the fish and then spear them. Or in the winter they would cut a hole in the ice and put through a decoy that looked like a fish and then spear the muskellunge.”

European settlers in the area began spearing the fish in the 1830s and then selling them in Jamestown where they found they had a market. The area became known for its commercial lake fishing and attracted more people to the area with muskellunge dinners being offered in hotels.

There were some people who were against the idea of spearing muskellunge and worked to sign it into law to stop the practice as the population of the fish began to decrease. The law went into effect in 1905.

“So from the 1830s to 1905, spearing these fish really did help the economy in our area,” Ward said.

For Ward, his interest in Chautauqua Lake history began with stories from an older man he knew growing up who would tell him stories about hunting and fishing on the lake, and about how he and his friends used to go out and spear muskellunge on the lake. The Bemus Point town historian also talked to him about certain aspects and let Ward read some books. Since he began writing, Ward has also joined the Bemus Point Historical Society and Chautauqua County Historical Society.

“I started writing them after work when I had the time,” Ward said. “I have a new book being sent to the publishers soon that focuses on some of the early aviators that were in and passed through Chautauqua County, including Amelia Earhart.”

Before he began writing his books, Ward worked as a health and safety environment manager at Signor Corporation before it was shut down, and then as a project manager at a heater and air conditioner company in Jamestown before retiring.

During his work on his books, the one thing he found that surprised him had to do with the state of the water in Chautauqua Lake.

“During the ice industry prosecution, the waters in Chautauqua Lake were rated purest water in the state,” Ward said. “That’s a big difference to now.”

Overall, Ward said the hardest part about writing his books is the research.

“I make sure to put footnotes in all of my books,” Ward said. “I have several different online sources that I use, including local newspaper histories and archives. You can use key words and find most anything on there.”

When not writing, Ward enjoys being a tour guide at Bemus Point Lawson Boating Heritage Center.

“This family has been there for 100 years, maintaining and building boats,” Ward said.

At the moment, Ward’s books can be found at the Ashville General Store and the Boating Heritage Center. He is working on getting them available at the Cheesehouse.

Ward said that the Chautauqua County area is a good place to find a lot of interesting history.

“It’s a great area for history, and if you haven’t learned about it yet, you should go learn some,” Ward said. “If you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going. It’s important to have a historical perspective.”


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