A ‘Musk’ Read
After five years and 225 pages, Fletcher Ward of Bemus Point has finished writing his first book – a contemporary history of rearing muskellunge on Chautauqua Lake.
The book, which is titled “Saving Chautauqua’s Muskies,” is a chronological journey across time, focusing on Chautauqua’s muskellunge, but also detailing a general history of Chautauqua County, and how seemingly innocuous and arbitrary events had a greater effect on Chautauqua’s muskellunge than one would think.
“Early farming brought people to Chautauqua, but the soils were poor,” said Ward. “So instead these people began logging and logged all the timber in the watershed. After all the soft wood was gone, they harvested hard woods, and burned it for potash. All that runoff and pH change was terrible for the fish in the lake. Eventually, the potash ran out, and the people built a livelihood on spearing muskellunge.”
According to Ward, the lake was plentiful with muskellunge, however no natural resources are unlimited, and eventually muskellunge in the lake became sparse.
“In 1903, which was toward the end of the muskellunge spearing, the U.S. Fishing Commission recorded 89,000 pounds of muskellunge taken out of the lake that year,” said Ward. “However, that accounts for maybe half of what was actually taken out of the lake, as muskellunge was a local food source, and was often speared without any (documentation).”
According to Ward’s book, only 30 years after the arrival of the first European settlers to the lake, Chautauqua’s muskellunge were already believed by some to be threatened by over fishing. Despite this, the muskellunge spearing continued with minimal regulatory oversight into the 20th century, and public sentiment against locally appointed officers in charge of regulating and enforcing rules for fishing grew.
Eventually, to combat the swiftly declining numbers of muskellunge in Chautauqua Lake, hatcheries were established around the lake, with the first permanent hatchery being built in Greenhurst.
The book goes on to detail the rich history of Chautauqua Lake and muskellunge, including how hatcheries, conservation and man’s use have affected the muskellunge of the lake in positive and negative ways. Ward explained that researching the detailed history of muskellunge over 125 years proved to be difficult, but never discouraging.
“I have literally thousands of articles from The Post-Journal and its predecessors,” said Ward. “I was also able to put together a large collection of annual reports of the Conservation Department on fish. I used to spend a lot of time in the microfilm room at the library, and we used to joke that it started to become my office.”
Ward was quick to offer praise and thanks to current Post-Journal archivist Linda Carlson and former Post-Journal editor Cris Herbst for helping him to find old and obscure articles regarding muskellunge in Chautauqua.
Of course, even with additional help and resources, writing a book, over the course of five years, can be a frustrating thing.
“Sometimes you get tired of writing and you have to back away from it for a while,” said Ward. “One of the interesting things that happened in writing it was this: I had a friend who was an insurance adjuster. He was adjusting a claim out of Florida, and the woman asked where he was from. When he said Chautauqua, N.Y., she explained that her great-great grandfather was the first game warden for Chautauqua County. She was kind enough to send a whole bunch of photographs and information, and I was able to use most of it in the book.”
According to Ward, there were three people who really helped him once his book was completed and the editing process began.
“My wife, my daughter, and my lawyer,” said Ward. “When you’ve been in the legal business as long as (Dalton Burgett) has, you have a different perspective on writing. He gave me some challenges, and they were pretty tough, but they were the right challenges to make the book what it needed to be. You have to be ready to take the bitter with the sweet, even though it can be hard.”
BOOK SIGNING TO BE HELD?MONDAY
On Memorial Day, Ward will be signing his book and talking to guests from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Anne Schetinne’s Lakeside Cottage Shoppe in Bemus Point.
Copies of Ward’s book will be available for purchase at the signing for $27. Guests may also purchase a copy of his book from the Bemus Point Historical Society, Cadwell’s Cheese House and Skillman’s in Bemus Point. It is available for reading at the McClurg Museum in Westfield, the Bemus Point Library, the Bemus Point Historical Society and the Department of Environmental Conservation Library.
The Lakeside Cottage Shoppe is located at 60 Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point. The shoppe can be reached for questions at 386-3876.