The nearly-full moon hung bright in the dark sky Sunday morning as a small crowd grew outside the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority wharf. Fishing poles bobbed like reeds and voices were hushed at 5:55 a.m. as children as young as three waited for the gates to open so they could claim their spots at the railing for the annual kids derby day.

Hannah Gibbs, 13 (in teal cap) was grand winner for 19.75-inch shark. — Vivian Ewing

A 30-year-old tradition, the kids derby is a two-hour event for children old enough to hold a pole and up to age 14. The Steamship Authority donates use of their wharf so the kids have a safe and accessible place from which to cast. Prizes are awarded for first, second and third longest catch in three age groups, and a special prize is awarded for the longest overall catch and for the longest scup. Winners take home a new rod and reel and a tackle box.

Before sunrise, derby committee president Ed Jerome stood on a plastic chair to briefly address the eager crowd. He advised safety (“No running, please!”), thanked the event’s sponsors and quickly dismounted. The pack spread fast. Within moments, each small group of children and parents had found a spot, baited their hooks and were casting off. Another moment later, the first fish came in to excited cries.

Ed Jerome looked out over the group and smiled, seeming pleased. The event was co-created by Mr. Jerome and Cooper Gilkes of Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown. “Coop and I created this event together,” Mr. Jerome said. “And now it’s pushing on thirty years.”

Ellie, Mitch, and Jackson Pennington of West Tisbury. This was Ellie's first kids derby, and Jackson's second. — Vivian Ewing

Mr. Jerome estimated that there were more than 300 people at this year’s event, “a good turnout.”

A length-only measurement system and lack of species requirement allows for some interesting catches. “Eels win sometimes,” Mr. Jerome said. “And even sand sharks, which aren’t in the regular derby.”

The moon still shining, a deep red sun emerged from the horizon and fish were pulled up every few minutes. Ellie Pennington, 9, of West Tisbury reeled something in with the help of her brother Jackson, 7, and their father Mitch, but at the last moment it slipped off.

Waiting for the fish to bite. — Vivian Ewing

“I almost just caught a big black sea bass,” Ellie exclaimed, to which Jackson responded, “I DID catch a big black sea bass.”

His secret? “It starts pulling and I just reel it in.”

At 7:30 a.m. the action was warming up and the weigh-line was growing, but there was still time for levity. Young Wren Robertson brought in a fish and then her mother, Elizabeth Bonifacio, weighed in a human baby (her younger daughter, Regan Fischer). “Twenty-three inches!” weigh master Ron McKee declared. “That might be a derby winner!”

With five minutes to go before the 8 a.m. bell, young anglers continued to bring in scup, flounder, black sea bass, and tautog before measuring them and then tossing them back in the water.

When the derby was over, the crowd assembled to hear the final tally. For the second year in a row, Hannah Gibb, 13, was the overall winner. This year she claimed victory with a 19.75-inch shark. The kids derby day veteran stood proudly with her fellow fishermen as photographs were taken.

Luciano Baldwin, age 10, caught the longest scup of the day at 13 inches.

In the eight and under group, Roy Lockis, 6, placed first for his 18-inch Atlantic eel. Mikey Waters, 7, came in second for his 16-inch sea bass and Ben Parker, 5, won third place for his 15.5-inch fluke,

In the nine to 11 category, Landon Medeiros, 9, came in first with his 17-inch fluke. Paul Saucier, 10, received second prize for his 16.5-inch sea bass and Dylan Kral, 9, won third for his 15-inch flounder.

In the 12-14 group, Zach Murray, 12, was the first place winner with 15.5-inch sea bass. Brenton Wood, 12, came in second for his sea bass measuring 14.5 inches, and Ryan Giordano, 12, earned third place with a 14-inch sea bass.

Mr. Jerome shielded his eyes from the glare and watched as parents with derby pins on their hats congratulated their kids, thanked the derby volunteers and walked back towards land. “It’s great to see these children out here to get that first light.” Mr. Jerome said. “Gotta get them started early.”

More photos from kids derby day.