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A play in multiple acts.

Cast, in order of appearance:

Chorus, infrequent fisher and loather of boat travel

Bill Poole, 85, local fishing legend, past part-owner of Poole-Chaffee Boatyard

Buck Everingham, 51, heir and part-owner of Everingham Brothers Bait Company

Frank LoPreste, 63, local fishing legend, owner of five boats, two gas docks, and three landings

Catherine Miller, promotional officer of the San Diego Sportfishing Council

Fred Huber, 45, captain and part-owner of the Daily Double, a rival half-day boat

R.J. Hudson, 24, captain of the New Seaforth, a rival half-day boat

Robert Knox, associate director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Paul Dayton, professor of marine ecology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Shelly Ehmer, 37, fisherwoman and crewmember of the long-range boat the Dominator

J.D. McGriff, 46, captain of the Fisherman III, a rival half-day boat

Jason Coz, 35, captain of the Dolphin, a rival half-day boat

Dr. Tim Radke, cardiopulmonary radiologist and expert on seasickness

Chuck Driscoll, part-owner of Driscoll Boatworks on Shelter Island Drive

Michael Hinton, senior scientist at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission

Sundry San Diego sportspeople and crewmembers

MORALITY TALES

Chorus, infrequent fisher and loather of boat travel: You talk to anybody who's hooked, and you know it's addictive. That adrenaline rush. Fighting and landing a whopping fish. The beauty and rhythm of the marine environment. Some folks spend their whole lives fanatics of the sport. And many pass the fishing bug genetically, down through their families. As one sea captain told me, "It's natural. I'm a Pisces."

Fishing makes me think of fate, of the powers and principles that are beyond me that determine the course of my life. Fishing makes me think from this perspective because fishing makes me think, at least momentarily, from a fish's perspective.

Imagine how fishing must seem to a fish: In the midst of a meal I always enjoy, a sharp-angled pin pierced me today and an upward pulling strained against me. I struggled and was hoisted from my element into a suffocating thinness. I could see only bright shapes there, and though I continued to struggle I was spastic and helpless. Something wholly alien to me tore at my mouth and handled my body.

Even thrown back into the water, what must fishes think? How bizarre the whole experience must seem, even to a tiny fish brain.

Fishing reminds me that even when we feel as though we have things under control, due to forces beyond us, not one of us is ever truly free. We're in a bait tank or being fitted with a hook or set loose or we're in a vast and complicated ocean where sea lions and bigger fish and other predators predate.

Is fishing fundamentally cruel? Is it wrong to manipulate bait and to force fish from their homes and sometimes to kill them?

Why do I feel foolish even asking myself these questions?

As humans, we have that old sense of entitlement. After all, we weren't just given fish, we were taught to go fishing.

Bill Poole, local fishing legend and past part-owner of Poole-Chaffee Boatyard: "The human race just likes to look the other way. You've got people who eat beef, but they won't go hunting. Or there's people who say it's okay to butcher a cow, but it's not okay to kill an elk. Or people ask me how I could shoot a cute animal like a deer. But that meat doesn't go to waste. And these animals and fish aren't stupid. You learn that over the years. You go looking for fish in their habitat and try to get them to bite a hook, then you find out how clever they are. They're smarter than we like to think. And then you hook a big one and fight it for a few hours, and you tell me you don't think it's a pretty fair fight."

Buck Everingham, heir and part-owner of Everingham Brothers Bait Company: "I've never seen a fish scream. I can't attest to the fact of whether or not they feel pain. But if you read the Bible, you see where mankind is supposed to harvest and use the things of the earth. Now I'm not saying we should go whole hog and pollute and kill everything, but what we need is there for us to use. And if you don't believe that, then what do you do? You've got to eat.

"You know, how many environmentalists go out and eat chicken or beef? And how many eat fish? Probably a lot more of them eat fish.

"What are we supposed to do, get sensitive and starve to death?"

WHAT IS IT, EXACTLY, ABOUT THIS THING CALLED "FISHING"?

Frank LoPreste, local fishing legend, owner of five boats, two gas docks, and three landings: "The anticipation of going fishing is a big part of the fun," he said. "Actually getting on the boat is another huge part of the fun. The camaraderie is sensational. Generally speaking, most guys fish with friends. But when you're actually talking the act of fishing, the presentation of the bait is very important, getting the bait into the zone is extremely important, but the biggest thrill is getting bit and setting the hook.

"To me, and to most people, the rest of it takes a weak mind and a strong back. So losing the fish -- and don't get me wrong here, there are certain fish that you really want to land, and it is heartbreaking -- but you know what? 'That's fishing,' like the man said.

"How about all these guys who go over to the Guadalupe Islands and the white sharks eat their fish right next to the boat after they've fought it for an hour and a half?

"But it's all worth it, all of it, in the end."

FISHING TRIPS

TRIP 1

Captain and part-owner: Fred Huber, 45. Thirty-one years in the business, 23 as captain.

Boat: Daily Double, 65 by 20 feet, launched in 1959, built by Jack Norek, who worked at the Dittmar & Donaldson boatyard up in Costa Mesa. "Norek had different ideas on how to do things," Captain Huber said. "The Double is built a little beefier than the Dittmar & Donaldson design. A little broader across the stern and up the sides."

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