Some kids believe in the tooth fairy. The kids in the Kleeman family believe in the fish fairy.

“An offering to the fish gods,” said Volkert Kleeman, 12, holding a freshly pulled tooth up to the sun while fishing with his family in waters off the Vineyard. He tossed it over the stern of the boat and watched it sink into the sea.

Kert said that his tooth, along with a desire to be out on the water, had ached throughout the school day. His parents, Charlie and Lindsay, have a strict rule that he and his younger sisters — Nikita, 11, Dill, 5, and Fyfe, 3 — aren’t allowed to play hooky to fish the derby. But as soon as the school bell rings, Lindsay does the after school pickups from the West Tisbury and Charter Schools before meeting Charlie and their 22-foot Grady White at the Texaco fueling dock in Menemsha.

Volkert Kleeman, age 12, offers a newly lost tooth to the fish gods. — Will Sennott

So far, the Kleeman kids have landed on the junior leaderboards multiple times and have been battling each day to remain at the top. They will take all the luck they can get, they said, whether it comes from the particular way they jig their trolling rods, their tradition of never bringing bananas aboard their vessel or the sacrifice of one of their molars.

Friday afternoon was no different. Kert, Nikita and Dill kneeled along the bow of the boat as Charlie steered out to the fishing grounds. Once they started marking fish on the radar screen, the kids immediately fell into formation: tying on their favorite lures, casting them into the water and making sure the lines stayed at the right depth.

“I’ve got so many mates here, it’s great,” Charlie said. “All I have to do is drive the boat.”

Within minutes, the tip of one of the rods dipped.

The order of who gets to reel in the fish is determined by age and so Dill was first to bat (Fyfe was otherwise engaged with an afterschool playdate). She climbed up on the captain’s chair and took control of the rod, still locked into the holder. Cursing like a sailor (per family rules, the kids are allowed to swear only while reeling in a fish) Dill hauled the first fish aboard. It was a baby bonito, described by Dill as a “cutie” as she dangled it in front of her face.

“That’s dinner, but not a derby winner,” Lindsay said.

Lining them up. — Jeanna Shepard

The kids went through the entire lineup, landing another baby bonito and a handful of schoolie bluefish but still nothing derby-worthy.

“I just want to win the derby!” Dill said, frustrated at the size of the one of the schoolie bluefish she reeled in. Then, in an aside to herself, she bowed her head and whispered: “I’m never giving up.”

And give up they did not.

It was Nikita’s second turn when the tip of one of the rods dipped again. This time, the line went screaming and there was a brief moment of shock before Nikita jumped into action.

The fish battled hard but finally succumbed and Nikita reeled it in to the boat. Per derby regulations, Charlie handled only the leader to net the fish and haul it on board. The entire family stared at the massive bonito writhing in the net with mouths agape before they broke into a celebration.

“That’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Dill.

Except for one more schoolie bluefish, the large bonito was their last fish of the afternoon and as the sun sank below the horizon, the family headed back to harbor, eager to see where the fish would place them on the junior leaderboards.

The Kleemans: Volkert, Lindsay, Dill, Nikita, Charlie and Fyfe. — Jeanna Shepard

Later that night, the Kleeman family could be found at derby headquarters with Nikita holding the bonito like a football under her arm. The fish weighed in at 7.79 pounds, vaulting Nikita to the top of the junior all tackle boat bonito division.

“It felt so big!” Nikita said. “My arms and my back hurt so bad.”

But there are still two and a half weeks left in the derby and the leaderboards are growing more competitive each day. Nikita’s bonito was bumped down to second place in the junior division a few days later, and Kert remains in third place in the junior division for boat caught bluefish and boat caught striped bass. But Dill is still in first place for the mini juniors with her 14.62-pound boat caught striped bass.

Kert’s offering to the fish god’s was the last of his baby teeth, the family said, and so they will have to search elsewhere for lucky charms in the coming weeks.

“The derby is just an experience,” Charlie said. “I know these kids will remember it like I remember fishing with my father when I was their age.”