Spider Lake Lodge: one classy fishing camp

Go fish, but when the angling ends as sun sets, a remote log lodge could be your finest catch of the day in Northwoods Wisconsin.

The fishing season for many species opens May 7 on thousands of the state’s inland waterways. These include Big Spider Lake, the largest in a five-lake chain that is home to musky, walleye, bass, crappie and other panfish.

The aquatic variety is typical for water-rich Sawyer County, home to at least 50,000 acres of lakes and rivers. Jim Kerkow has known the area since he was a child.

“I fell in love with this lake,” he explains. “You can feel in the pit of your stomach that you belong in a place, but it took a while to figure out how to make this work.”

Since 2000, he and Craig Mason have owned and operated Spider Lake Lodge, which began in 1923 as a rugged fishing camp and today is a bed and breakfast that combines several genres of rustic design.

Fishermen still head here, but so do couples in search of romance. Jim describes his clientele as “fairly well-heeled,” and most come from Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

He and Craig are interior designers who also operate NorthPoint Design Studio near Hayward, specializing in unconventional cabin décor.

Spider Lake Lodge was built by Native American craftsmen as Moody Lodge, named after the Illinois auto mechanic who financed it on land depleted by logging companies. For years, the only way to reach the area was by boat or seaplane. Electricity wasn’t added until 1940.

The breakfast room and a screened porch overlook the lake. Soft lighting, woodsy embellishments and a massive stone fireplace define the lodge lounging area. Each of the seven guest rooms is decorated in a dramatically different way.

On the bed in the Bear’s Den is a bear hide. In the Moonahanis Suite is a dreamy painting of a goddess in headdress. Above the headboard in the Birkebeiner are antique snowshoes. Also for rent, as of this year, is the two-bedroom Curfew Cabin, which also contains a private fireplace, porch and kitchen.

It all makes Spider Lake Lodge a showcase for the owners’ design skills and decorating philosophy.

“We don’t do moosey-bear or matchy-matchy – contrived – approaches,” Jim says. “We don’t want it to look modern,” but neither do they want the inn to seem predictable, average or unfashionable.

“You shouldn’t notice too much of what we’ve done,” he explains, which means décor should not seem forced, pretentious or mismatched against its natural environment.

So expect a mix of Adirondack and Old English style furniture, to which birch or other rustic materials have been added. Motifs that rely on pine cones or whitetail deer “are used with great restraint,” in deference to old-time tools, taxidermy, fishing gear and outdoor scenes that blend nostalgia with artistic flair.

The designer-innkeepers scour and scavenge as far away as Europe. “We hire people to take us around and translate,” Jim says, of the excursions abroad. “We get into the backs of stores and into people’s homes, and sometimes find things they haven’t figured out how to fix yet.”

The tribal influences at Spider Lake Lodge may appear Native American, but some weavings and rug patterns come from Turkey and Afghanistan. Upholstery and other fabrics are a challenge because “the creative, elegant, gorgeous stripes and plaids are few and far between,” Jim says. “The fabrics industry in the United States has been decimated.”

A part of the vibe is “camp style,” which – when done effectively – prompts a two-tiered reaction to furnishings. Think “I would never put that in my house” and the tenderness of knowng that “Grandpa had one of those.” An old minnow bucket might arouse both responses.

“We can do a pretty good job of making a new house feel old,” Jim says, “and what we want people to do is blend this space into their experience” of staying in the area.

For more about Spider Lake Lodge, 10472 W. Murphy Blvd., Hayward: www.spiderlakelodge.com, 715-462-3793. The lodge also has a Facebook page.

The property is 12 miles east of Hayward on Hwy. 77, then six miles north on Murphy. Do not rely on a GPS. Room rates, which include breakfast, are $159 to $199 per night. Curfew Cabin rental is $350 per night.

For more about NorthPoint Design Studio, 15574 Hwy. 77, Hayward: www.northpoint-design.com, 715-934-4700.

An appropriate companion for lovers of the Northwoods is “Beyond the Trees: Stories of Wisconsin Forests” by Candace Gaukel Andrews, newly released by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

What’s it about? On the book’s back cover is my testimonial:

“ ‘Beyond the Trees’ takes an up-close, clear, and informed look at the terrain, wildlife, foliage, and moods that distinguish our most cherished wooded landscapes. Be it orchids in the wild or wild ricing rituals, this book distinguishes the natural nuances within our forests and pays attention to the people who watch over them with passion and purpose.”

The cost is $26.95; for more: www.wisconsinhistory.org.

“Roads Traveled” is the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.