Big bruisers, state-stocked trophies and lots of happy kids were evident in this year's Post-Gazette Trout Photo Contest.
Readers uploaded their digital images on a new self-publishing tool that makes it easier to share photographs of all kinds with readers. At http://post-gazette.mycapture.com, find Outdoors, then upload or scroll through and rate images in the folders Deer Photos, Fishing, Wildlife and Trout Contest (now closed for submissions).
Contest categories Big Fish, Kidstuff and Artsy Shots generated nearly 60 photos documenting readers' catches.
Top honors went to "Monster Steelhead," a photo submitted by Don Anthony of Warren, Pa., that gives new meaning to the old phrase "beginner's luck."
"I am not a fisherman. This is the first fishing license I've ever had in my life and this is the first steelhead I've caught," Anthony said. Caught on 4-pound tippet, the fish weighed 21 pounds and stretched 343/8 inches, unofficially.
Anthony was convinced by his friend Tom Bergstue of Busti, N.Y., to give fly fishing for steelheads a try, and they went to Twenty Mile Creek, Erie County. With the water low and clear April 6, Bergstue tied on a light Maxima Ultra Green tippet and chartreuse Blood Dot.
"It wasn't a big epic battle," Anthony said. "When the fish was on the line, [Tom] told me that if it nicks a rock, he's done, and that I should resist [the fish's] urge to go downstream toward the lake. When he got into the shallows, I beached him."
Bergstue shot the photo. Anthony was back at home before he realized that had he certified its weight, he would have set a state record. The standing steelhead record of 20 pounds, 3 ounces was set in 2001.
Anthony takes it all pretty lightly. "Tom said, 'You don't know what you've done.' I said 'It's a fish.' " It's now in pieces in his freezer. He plans to smoke it. On May 19, Anthony's steelhead was voted Trout of the Year by the Erie Times-News.
Among the big fish featured, "Rob's Minnow," a photo by Ben Hayen of Salem, Mass., shows off a 35-inch, 15-pounder also caught in April on Twenty Mile by Rob Bosilovic of Gibsonia. His fish went "epic" and was landed after a 20-minute fight.
All Post-Gazette readers' kids are cute, but some photos in the Kidstuff category seemed to jump off the screen.
In "Golden Trophy," Dane Fazio, 7, of Ross hoists an 18-inch-plus golden rainbow landed at North Park Lake April 14 with the assistance of the "Fishin' Family," including father Chris Fazio and Grandpa Fran Fazio. "Big Brownie" shows off a fine 22-inch brown trout caught at Long Run, Allegheny County, by Lucas Schmondiuk, 10, of North Huntingdon.
"First of the Season" shows Donnie McClain, 7, of Kennedy with his first rainbow trout caught opening day at Raccoon Creek State Park, and in "22 Incher" Sarah Erdner, 7, of Avalon hides behind a golden rainbow caught April 14 at North Park Lake.
But you got to love Kidstuff winner "Caroline's First Love," in which Caroline Danhires, 6, of Morgantown, W.Va., cuddles the rainbow she caught in the Youghiogheny River near Confluence. The picture was taken by her dad, Bryan Danhires, and the fish was caught, hugged and released unharmed.
"He liked it," Caroline said.
Trout of various sizes were compared and contrasted by several readers, including Mark MacCettulla (brook trout caught in Laurel Run, Huntingdon County), Dan Sum of Upper Burrell (brown, rainbow and golden rainbow, all over 20 inches, caught in Oil Creek), and David Haibeck (11- and 23-inch rainbows taken in Allison Park).
But the "artsy-est" of the Artsy Shots photos was "Portrait of a Steelie" by George Altemus of Shaler. The vivid blush and rainbow coloration shows the 27-inch Elk Creek steelhead lost its silver-bullet sheen when it replaced its lake diet with eggs and bugs eaten in the creek.
"Caught and released -- too valuable of a resource to use but once," Altemus said. "... I haven't killed a wild fish in 37, 38 years now."
A Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited member who in retirement travels the world on fishing adventures, Altemus shot the photo with an inexpensive Casio 750 point-and-shoot.
"People have those fancy cameras back at the car, but taking the camera with you sort of locks in the experience," he said. "I enjoy looking at the pictures -- it brings the moment back vividly."
Some photos deserved their own categories. Not sure what to do with "Sushi," a fun shot of Grant Jacoby of West Chester sinking his teeth into a fresh rainbow taken at Mill Creek near Ligonier on opening day.
Quite a few readers misidentified their shots of golden rainbow trout -- rainbows selectively bred and stocked by the state Fish and Boat Commission and intended to be bright golden-colored trophies. They're frequently but erroneously referred to as "palominos," rainbows that were bred in an unattractive pale yellow-green coloration. The strain was discontinued decades ago.
"Trixie's Trout" by Eric Fisher of Bethel Park documents what could be the launch of a new sport: fish hunting.
Fisher has raised hunting dogs for years, he said. Four-year-old Trixie is a Golden Lab mix trained to retrieve upland game birds.
"We were fishing on a group of ponds around Seven Springs, and my son-in-law said, 'Look at that fish jumping,' " Fisher said. "The dog looked out there and hit the water. Before we knew it, she swam up on the fish, caught it and retrieved it."
The photo shows Trixie swimming to shore with a rainbow trout in her mouth.
"I don't know what the regulations say about that, but we ate it," Fisher said. "Trixie got some, too."
View and rate all of the photos at www.post-gazette.com/troutcontest.