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Get hooked in Avery

By Stephen Kaminsky
   Outdoor and Travel Editor


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Idaho's most interesting resident lives in the town of Avery. He resides in a hanging glass cabinet alongside the bar in the Avery Trading Post. He guards the building with a hook as one arm and a rifle by his side. He has been there for 40 years without complaint, and will likely do another 40 years of sentry duty without murmuring a word.

Avery, located about 50 miles from St Maries, up the St. Joe River on the St. Joe River Road (FH50), is the last town on the river before the highway snakes up to the Montana border, and turns to gravel. Woodrow Wilson visited Avery when he was president.

The resident in the glass case was a hapless trapper, who set off in about 1900 for the wilds of the Yukon to trap animals for fur. Caught in a snowstorm, he died, and left the ground around him littered with bear traps, his rifle and the hook that replaced the half of his left arm which had gone missing years before.

A wandering Canadian found the bones some 60 years later, and returned them to Idaho. He's been hanging out in the bar ever since.

Avery's sub-100-person population has created some entertainment to keep itself busy in the long winter months. Near the downtown area, which consists of only the Avery Trading Post, is a steel dorm room-like structure which has "Avery Jail" scripted in black on a whitewashed background.

This was the town's original jail. It measures about 10 feet by 10 feet, and has bars on the windows and a heavy steel door.

Next to the jail is the trout pond which is actually an oval pool with a water jet on the far side to keep the water moving and the trout happy. Eric Leitz, a native Parkline, Idaho, resident, describes the fish as, "big trout."

For a mere 10 cents, visitors can purchase a handful of fish food in the bubblegum dispenser. Drop the dime, and the trout understand what the ratcheting sound means, lunch. Trout swarm all around each other trying to get to the top of the fish pile.

Piranha-like, the fish devour the pellets as soon as they are tossed in. It might be hard to imagine fat fish, but these fit the bill. A lifetime of swimming in place, eating all the time, has left them humorously ovoid.

The real trick, Dave Best said, is to use popcorn. The popcorn allows for some float time between the initial toss and the final descent into the water. The trout will actually jump out of the water to retrieve the falling treats.

The road over Moon Pass, an old rail grade, leads 28 miles through four tunnels en route to Wallace, Idaho. The road is wide, and the tunnels cold, even in the summer. Winter travel is not recommended; always watch out for logging trucks barreling around blind corners.
The road to Moon Pass is a left turn immediately after the town ends.

Popular with people who fish, Lost Lake is located across the river and about 25 miles east of Avery. The drive on the gravel road takes about an hour, and the hike is 3 miles and another hour. This year, 6 feet of snow remained around the lake in June.

On the road to Lost Lake, follow signs carefully and keep a sharp eye out for the small, brown, Forest Service road signs. Many of the road signs have been perforated with high-speed ventilation holes, so make sure there is a map handy in the car before setting off into the mountains.

To get to Lost Lake, drive across the St Joe River, and follow signs for Fishhook Creek. Take Fishhook Creek Road, also called 301, about 20 miles. Pass through a tunnel, over a small pass, and down the other side. Turn right on FR216. Follow that road for a few miles, then ford the Little North Fork Creek. The stream passes over the road, but a two-wheel-drive car can pass easily through it when the water is low.

The unmarked trailhead to the lake is shortly after the stream crossing on the right. The trail is well kept for about half of the way, and then deteriorates after a collapsed bridge across a shallow creek. Crossing the creek can be a slick experience for the non-fleet of foot.

The trail meanders about another 30 minutes before it opens up into the Lost Lake basin. Lost Lake is nestled at the foot of a mountain and is nearly circular. The water is impossibly clear; it's possible to see the bottom of the lake from the bank 100 feet away. Fish jump in the late afternoon, and often bears will trot by on the hillside above.