Hal, et. al. -
The real thing is well worth it for some people. The exclusivity is part of the allure for me. In fact if one looks deeply into situation this is what has preserved their fishery for so long; where in our young country we have trashed atlantic salmon already and had to supplement what we destroyed with artificial fish populations. What there was of a legacy died with the indigenous fish, and a put-and-take mentality has taken over in the name of plentiful and free fishing not just for salmon but virtually every species.
What was once a huge population of wild US atlantic salmon now tethers on the edge of extinction in the last stand streams of Maine. It's pitiful really, salmon rivers that have been dammed and exploited to the point of bursting into flames or running in bright colors from the raw dyes dumped into them. All in the name of "free" enterprise and capitalism. Child laborers filled the factories along these rivers, some without fingers and hands from the textile mills that shaped the banks of these rivers into stone walled corridors of putrid water truncated by dams. It's money that killed these rivers and it's salmon - and ironically it's money that has kept the Spey alive.
Of course the best fishing to me is free fishing practiced in a fishery whose legacy is so rich and deep it permeates every rock and riffle. Second best is one that humans have protected with currency. If beat fees and ghillies are the cost of sustaining the legacy, then so be it - I'd pay to play no problem.
Maybe here in New England (where the only atlantic salmon runs in the union occurred) we should've adopted paid fishing for salmon a long time ago. Maybe then they'd still be around!