On Sunday morning, the mood at the Steamship Wharf in Oak Bluffs was as bright as the December holiday season or a birthday eve. As the charcoal gray sky showed shades of breaking light, adults and children lined up near the ticket office, waiting for 6 a.m. to hit so they could be granted pier access.

Wearing hoodies, bright-colored leggings, baseball caps and sweatshirts from past fishing derbies, children bounced with anticipation on the balls of their feet. The crowd surged as barrier ropes were pulled aside. After a welcome and safety warnings from John Custer, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, hopeful anglers hustled to spots along the railings, staking out their territory as they dropped or cast their lines into the water.

Kids’ Day at the 2021 Derby had begun, an annual event for ages 4 to 14, and the only day of the year fishing is allowed from the Oak Bluffs Steamship wharf.

Fishing began at 6 a.m. Sunday. — Mark Alan Lovewell

By 6:10 a.m., the first fish had been caught and was being carried proudly to the measuring station. For the next two hours, the air rang with cries of “Daddy! I need a minnow,” and “Look at this little fish I just got.”

Eight-year old Wells Lowry, who said he has done well with false albacores in the past, ran to the measuring table with a scup. Nearby, six-year old Maya Cray of Oak Bluffs described the moment she felt the fish on the line as “it felt like it was going crazy.” Her brother helped reel it in.

Nine-year old Julian Cateve, who splits time between Rhode Island and West Tisbury, is a veteran fisherman of two years. He placed third in the 9-11 year-old category, having hooked a 17 1/2 inch black sea bass.

Parents hovered over the kids, clutching cardboard cups of coffee or a donut. Conversations between adults was short lived, though, as they were called back to help haul in a catch, remove a hook or cut a line.

Fish are measure, not weighed, at the catch-and-release tournament. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Peter Boyhan of New Jersey worked the registration table, measuring fish caught in the ages 12-14 category. This year marks Mr. Boyhan’s 36th derby. He frequently participates with his brothers Patrick and Bob, he said. His fellow volunteer at the table was Martha Klein of Katama. She was delighted to see the line of children waiting for their catches to be measured, sharing that she saw some kids making their fish talk to each other while in line.

Most frequently caught on Sunday were flounder, scup and black sea bass.

During the event, Lela Gilkes sat in the cab of a pickup truck that headed the line of vehicles parked on the pier. Mrs. Gilkes worked quickly to record what was caught and by whom. When the closing whistle blew at 8 a.m., Mrs. Gilkes completed sorting the multi-colored index cards on which she had recorded each catch. The size of the fish determined the three winners in each age-based category as well as the overall grand winner. The overall grand winner was Peter Rosbeck 3rd, who reeled in a 23 3/4-inch bass.

Cooper and Lela Gilkes were instrumental in creating the kids’ derby, which Mrs. Gilkes remembered as starting sometime in the mid-1970s. Mr. Gilkes is the owner of Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown and is a longtime Derby committee member. On Sunday, they each took the whirlwind of activity in stride, smiling quietly and nodding in approval as the derby participants of future years reeled in fish.

Fishing with dad! — Mark Alan Lovewell

The 10 winners (first through third places awarded in the three age-based categories plus the overall grand winner) won a new rod, tackle box and engraved plaque. All participants received shark gummies donated by Enchanted Chocolates, commemorative T-shirts bearing student artwork created for the 2020 and 2021 competitions by students from the Tisbury and West Tisbury schools, and Dairy Queen certificates.

More than a few children were disappointed when told that they would have to wait a few hours before the could claim their cones as the Dairy Queen didn’t open until 1 p.m. Such is the life of an early morning fisherman.

More pictures.