Michigan’s Oldest Fishing Lodge

Michigan’s oldest fishing lodge continues to please with its tasteful and rustic environs. // Photography courtesy Barothy Lodge
Barothy's Elkhorn Lodge

Barothy Lodge, on the south bank of the Pere Marquette River, originally was purchased after Chicago doctor Adolph Barothy harvested the timber in 1889, with the intention of turning the land into a farm. As with many northern Michigan properties at that time, agriculture didn’t work out. Within a few years, Barothy began building a lodge.

It was an immediate hit. The Pere Marquette is one of the best trout streams in the Midwest, and before long, anglers flocked to fish one of the first-established brown trout fisheries in America. Barothy completed building the main lodge and, as demand grew, began adding additional buildings.

Nestled among white pines and mixed hardwoods, Barothy was, plainly put, a fishing lodge, where like-minded anglers fished the clear, cold waters right outside their doors. Anglers could rent a room and enjoy their meals at the dining room that seated 60.

The Barothy family owned the lodge until 1967 when two things happened: Michigan’s then Department of Conservation started stocking salmon in Lake Michigan — which ultimately made the PM even more attractive — and the Barothys sold the property.

Carla Hall - Barothy Lodge

Rowland Hall, a businessman from Hastings, purchased the 65-acre property with the intention of making it into a family retreat. That never happened; long-time visitors pestered the new owner into maintaining the property as a fishing lodge.

But the Hall family had a different vision; instead of continuing the lodge as it had been, the Halls began converting it to all self-contained units, purchasing more property (it’s now 320 acres) and building additional lodges. Today, Barothy Lodge boasts 15 buildings that sleep anywhere from four to 21, but the family always strived to maintain the tranquility of the place. Even today, there are neither telephones nor television sets in any of the lodges.

Instead, there are several mostly old, beautiful buildings — the newest was built in 2000 — with pine and cedar interiors and hand-made (mostly Amish) wooden furniture. All units have stainless steel kitchens, gas fireplaces and decks overlooking the PM. All but the smallest have hot tubs and pool tables.

As a result, Barothy Lodge became much more than a fishing resort. These days, it’s a popular destination for weddings, reunions, business meetings, yoga retreats and quiet family vacations. There are 10 miles of walking/hiking/cross-county skiing trails, which also have been discovered by the fat-tire bicycle crowd in the winter. There are shuffleboard courts, basketball hoops and outdoor swimming pools.

You can’t be a fisherman and work here. We had a manager who was fisherman and it didn’t work out — there’s just too much temptation.
— Rodney Hall

But in the fall, when the salmon and steelhead begin migrating up the federally designated natural and scenic river, it becomes a fishing lodge very much again.

“You can’t be a fisherman and work here,” says Rodney Hall, who has run the lodge for the past 23 years. “We had a manager who was fisherman and it didn’t work out — there’s just too much temptation.”

Indeed, the PM, the longest free-running river in Michigan, is perhaps the best natural salmon/steelhead stream this side of the West Coast. There are long runs and deep pools that hold the migrating salmonids, and a handful of ponds on the property — mostly stocked with trout, though the largest is a warm-water pool with bass, bluegills and catfish — that offer additional angling opportunities. One large pond that is closed to fishing exists simply for viewing; it’s full of rainbow trout as long as your leg.

“We let them grow until they die or get eaten by an eagle,” Hall said. “We have an active eagle’s nest, and they fish here all the time. Sometimes in the morning, they’ll come down and take a fish right in front of you. It’s pretty special.”

Hall said the lodge can arrange catering for everything from bar food to haute cuisine. They can help arrange guide service for visitors, and most of the PM’s fly-fishing guides work with Barothy’s clientele, often beginning or ending float trips at the property.

Bathing Beach - Barothy Lodge

“I have a client who stays with me and fishes with me most of the time, but once a year, he brings his business associates to Barothy’s and puts on a nine-boat float trip,” said Frank Willets, who runs the Pere Marquette Lodge upstream in Baldwin. “A lot of guys just like to stay at Barothy.”

Barothy Lodge charges by the customer, and it’s more expensive than a motel room; it costs roughly $75 a person to stay overnight (half price for children), but the digs are so special that many anglers bring their families, who have plenty to occupy themselves with while dad’s out fishing. Fact is, sometimes groups of wives rent a lodge to mingle together while their husbands are out hunting or fishing, Hall said.

Reservations can be made up to a year in advance — “Our return customers have first dibs,” Hall said — and some of the lodges have minimum-visitor requirements. Still, Barothy Lodge attracts some 17,000 visitors a year, and that number is growing. There’s a full-time staff of up to 25 at peak season, to maintain the ambiance and assist visitors with their needs.

Barothy Lodge is about a mile off the main road, a couple of miles south of U.S. 10, but its hard-topped roads make it accessible all four seasons, and it’s far enough from traffic that you wouldn’t know it’s even there. It’s an outstanding resort to visit if you’re into fishing. Or even if you’re not.

Bob Gwizdz is an outdoor writer who lives in East Lansing. He fishes whenever he gets the chance.

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