Mr. Gunn-- Your description of opening day on the Spey brought back wonderful memories for me!
In the mid seventies I spent several days fishing a popular beat on the Spey just outside Grantown-on-Spey. In those days I was a starving college kid and I had only a nine foot Fenwick glass fiber fly rod with a Medalist trout fly reel, not exactly the best tools for the job on that river.
I flogged the Spey for several days with not even a rap. By the third day I was quite discouraged and grew weary of the fishermen I met on the river bank who kept reminding me that I was wasting my time fishing the Spey with such "paltry gear".
On my last day I hooked a beautiful fish. I was astounded how violently it struck my fly. It took off downstream and with no more then fifty yards of backing on my reel I was compelled to follow. I stumbled off across the stones behind her, tripping and falling several times, drenched with sweat, legs palsied and useless.
I could not believe my good fortune-- the fish finally slithered up onto the beach. She was mine-- a gorgeous twelve pound henfish!
A couple stood behind me. They’d witnessed the entire fight. The husband had a movie camera and was filming me as I brought the priest down. His wife looked on flabbergasted. But it wasn’t murder that had shocked her so.
"Would you believe," she said, "would you believe that I've lived in Grantown-on-Spey all my life and I've walked along this path for fifty years and you're the first fisher I've ever seen catch a fish?"
She was in such a frenzy I didn't know whether I should apologize or offer her the fish.
After weighing and reporting where I'd caught it at the sporting goods store in town I returned to my digs. I was breathless with anticipation. I walked tall and proud through the door of Angus MacClellan’s Bed and Breakfast, certain that he would be thrilled when he saw what I carried.
Angus was the proprietor and indeed, he was ecstatic to see me with a fish draped in my arms. He’d been coaching me for several days, telling we where to go and what to use and I think he finally felt vindicated to see me return with such bounty. “Och, laddie, ya finally got one!”, he crowed. "That's just grate!"
There was a young lady in the room. It appeared she’d been booking a room for the evening. "That's a lovely fish you have there," she said. "Would you give me that fish?"
Her eyes were fixed on me. She hadn’t even looked at my fish. I mumbled something about taking it to the local smoke house. Yes, I said with more conviction. I'm going to have it smoked.
I was breathing more heavily then I would have liked. There was perspiration on my forehead. I had that feeling behind my legs I get when trying to converse with a stunner. And I couldn't wipe my forehead because my hands were covered with fish slime.
"Well, then", she said. "Would you give me the fish if I paid for it in kind?" Her voice was sweet and coy like honey. I even thought she’d winked at me but I might have been wrong. I just stood there in idiotic silence, cradling my dead fish like a Pieta.
And before I could put one and one together to finally arrive at two Angus stepped in front of me, facing this lovely woman. He bowed deeply at the waist and moved his arm through the air with a flourish.
"Young lady," he said in a magisterial voice. "I would be thrilled to give you a fish for payment in kind. And it will take me no time at all to return with a fish far larger and more robust then the one you see before you now."
I sat in my car the next day. I’d parked along side the Spey and watched the river flow by. I had just picked up a chunk of salmon from the Grantown smokery. I knew it wasn’t the same fish I’d brought them the day before. It was not what I’d expected. It didn’t taste very good. It was dry and crumbled in my mouth. And they’d used too much salt.
I sipped from my beer and watched the river flow by. Now I know the meaning of payment in kind. And I'll admit it: I hope the Spey never goes catch and release.