Tales from the salmon netting on the River Spey in the north east of Scotland

7. The Unmentionables

June 10th, 2008 by John Bennett
 The Unmentionables: Play Now

Sandy Geddes, skipper of the summer crew, and Robbie, his first mate, were examining the Bridge pool at the end of a long, hard day’s work for the salmon fishers. It had rained heavily in the Cairngorms for the last two days and though the Spey wasn’t exactly in spate, it was well up, and the black water, rippling like the flank of a prize bull in the main ring at the Keith Show, swept under the old railway viaduct, pinning a raft of broken branches and reeds to the upstream side of the dressed stone piers.
“It’ll be gey hard work again the morn,” said Robbie, with some relish, looking over at the rest of the summer crew who were lying shattered on the grass by the bothy.
“Aye, mebbe we should load up and shoot the river doon fae Fochabers the morn,” said Sandy, “the fush’ll be running hard again.”
Sandy’s reasoning proved impeccable and when they got back down to the bothy at the end of the next day the coble was loaded to the gunwales with fresh run fish sparkling in the late-afternoon sun. As the crew were boxing the catch a bottle green Range Rover pulled onto the grass by the bothy and two well-heeled looking gentlemen got out. One, a tall, thin man wearing a crisp new Barbour jacket approached Jake.
“I say…you don’t happen to work on the salmon fishery do you?” he said.
“Aye, aye,” said Jake, distracted by the sight of the tall man’s much shorter companion who was dressed in a remarkable outfit consisting of mustard yellow plus fours, a bright red waistcoat with silver buttons, a green tweed jacket and an oversized purple Tam O’Shanter with a large pheasant tail feather sticking from the head band.
“Och will ye look at that,” said Jake to Black Alec, “if it’s nae the verra Cock o the North himsel.”
“Jolly good, jolly good,” said the taller man clearly not understanding a word Jake was saying, “look, we’re on the Laird’s beat for the next fortnight and old Hector the ghillie said it would be a good idea to come down and talk to you chaps seeing as you might know where the fish were lying. You know, help us catch some fish.”
“Och, if it’s fush yer efter fit aboot a wee suppy Cymag,” said Jake with a mischievous glint in his eye.
“Sorry old boy, didn’t quite catch that,” said the tall man uneasily, perhaps realising that Jake was being less than straight with him. However, before Jake could reply, Sandy intervened.
“Hello there, I’m the skipper of the crew,” he said, edging Jake to one side, and offering the tall man his hand, “how can I help you?”


As the bottle green Range Rover pulled away up the track Black Alec spat on the ground. “Aye ye wis fair sooking up te they toffs,” he said to Sandy with some disgust, “gnepping awa like ye wis back at the school.”
“Aye, aye it’s aa viry weel fur you Alec, but yer nae permanent, and at the end of the day, thon boys could get me sackit.”
“That’s rubbish, min.”
“Aa the same, it disna herm to te keep in wi the rods,” replied Sandy slipping the bottle of Macallan ten year old, which had just come into his possession, into the boot of his car.
Two mornings later the rod fishermen were back. The taller of the two bounded out of the car and grabbed Sandy by the hand.
“Look Sandy old boy, I just want to thank you,” he said effusively, “I took five fish yesterday. Fresh run grilse. Sea lice still on them. Everywhere else was dead as a duck. Except Essil Pool. Exactly where you said.”
“Yes, yes, but it was you that caught them, not me,” said Sandy magnanimously.
“Well, yes of course, but all the same…”
“Not a problem. Not a problem,” said Sandy, bending down to unlock the coble. When he stood up again, he was surprised to find the tall man still hanging around.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” asked Sandy.
“Well actually, yes there is…the thing is that Johnny – he’s the chap in the car – he’s new to the game. Bought all the gear. Keen as mustard. Hasn’t caught a thing. Not a sniff. Now I think I know the problem, but that’s where I need some help.”


“Sorry Sandy, did you just say you want a pair of woman’s knickers?” said Gonzo incredulously.

“Wheesht min,” said Sandy looking furtive, “I dinna want this gettin roon.”
“You’re nae some some sort of pervert are you?” asked Gonzo.
“Absolutely not,” said Sandy indignantly, “it’s fur the toffs, nae me.”
“Are they perverts?” asked the Stingman.
“No, no, no boys, it’s for the oestrogen,” said Sandy.
“And why would they want that?” asked the Stingman, fearing that the skipper of the summer crew had lost his mind.
“Because,” said Sandy, “aa the biggest salmon hiv bin cocht by wumen”

And what Sandy said was true: the record for the heaviest salmon caught by rod and line in the British Isles is held by a Miss Georgina Ballantine who landed the monster 64 pound fish after a ten hour struggle on the banks of the River Tay in 1922; and the record for a salmon caught on the fly is also held by a woman; a 61 1/2 pound whopper caught by Mrs Tiny Morison on the Mountblairy beat of the River Deveron in Banffshire. Indeed, several more of the largest salmon ever caught in British waters have been landed by the fairer sex; a group greatly in the minority in the salmon fishing community.
No one is absolutely sure why women have been so much more successful than men when it comes to catching big fish, however, many men have concluded – having discounted the idea that it might be down to skill on the women’s part – that the fish, as Sandy explained to the students, are attracted to the female hormone, oestrogen. Whether this is true or not is debatable, however, many game fishermen, in order to dupe the fish, keep their tackle – fishing tackle that is – in a pair of their wife’s unmentionables: one thing that was not for sale in the fancy Mayfair shop where the Cock o the North had bought his outfit.
“Couldn’t you just take a pair of Meg’s knickers?” said Gonzo when Sandy had finished explaining the situation. A pained look crossed Sandy’s face.
“Boys, there’s £10 in it for each of ye, if ye can produce a pair of wifey’s unmentionables for first thing the morn’s morn.”
After the shift finished, the Stingman and Gonzo retired to the pool room of the local hotel to work out a plan of action and to spend their, as yet unearned, windfall.
“What about your aunty?” Gonzo asked the Stingman who was lodging with his aunt for the summer.
“Or your mother?” said the Stingman wincing.
“O.K, no family,” said Gonzo with a slight shudder.
“What about the AK 47?” asked the Stingman, referring to a female acquaintance of Gonzo’s from Portgordon. Gonzo shook his head, “She’s in Magaluf for two weeks and besides, she doesn’t really wear any knickers.”
Several pints and games of pool later and suddenly closing time was upon the two students and they still weren’t any closer to having secured the unmentionables.
“I say we just steal a pair off a washing line,” said Gonzo as they left the pub.
“Aye, but Sandy said they had to be unwashed, you know, for the oestrogen.”
“I’ll stick them in the cat’s basket for the night. Nobody’ll be any the wiser.”
After a short walk around the village, the Stingman and Gonzo found what they were looking for: a house with a line full of washing, including several pairs of surprisingly scant and lacy women’s knickers. Unfortunately, as neither Gonzo nor the Stingman were resident in the village they didn’t know whose house it was, and they had scaled the large paling fence and reached the washing line when Rocky the Rotweiler skidded round the corner of the conservatory.
“Oh my god,” said the Stingman, taking to his heels, ploughing straight through a bed of newly planted polyanthus and flinging himself over the tall wooden fence in the manner of an army recruit on an assault course. Unfortunately, Gonzo wasn’t so quick, and though he made it onto the fence, the dog managed to grab the heel of his wader and, feeling the jaws of the beast tighten, there was nothing Gonzo could do but straighten his foot and let the dog have his prize.


First thing the next morning, Sandy sidled up to Gonzo.
“Did ye get fit I wanted?”
“Aye, but there’s a problem.”
“Fit’s that?”
“I’ve lost one of my waders.”
Half an hour later, the summer crew were ready for the first shot of the day, but the rod fishermen still hadn’t appeared. Sandy slipped the black lacy pants back to Gonzo.
“O.K., you hing roon the bothy till the gaffer appears wi yer new widers, and if the toffs come, gie them the unmentionables and tak the fifty pound. And dinna try te swick me, or ye’ll be the werse fur it.”
Sure enough, as the summer crew where shooting the lower Bridge Pool, the rod fishermen appeared.
“I say, you haven’t seen Sandy have you,” asked the taller of the two.
“Yes, he’s down there, but I think I’ve got what you’re looking for,” replied Gonzo, reaching into his pocket and producing the lacy briefs.
“Splendid, splendid,” said the tall man shoving them into his pocket.
“Actually, they’re my girlfriend’s…”
“Oh, well, yeah,” said the tall man handing the fifty pounds over to Gonzo, “and er, thank her from us.”
Five minutes after the rod fishermen had disappeared the Gaffer turned up with the new waders.
“Is it you needs the new widers?” he asked gruffly.
“Yes, I managed to put a hole in the other one.”
“Right, that’ll be sixty pound.”
“What?” said Gonzo.
“Ye get one pair free wi the job; replacement pairs are sixty pound each. If ye’ve nae got it on ye, gie it te Sandy by the end o the week.” And though Gonzo was tempted to give the Gaffer the unmentionable money, he thought that it was best not to get on the wrong side of Sandy.

Two days later, Sandy and Robbie were patching a net holed during the recent high water when the bottle green Range Rover pulled up outside the bothy once again.
“Sandy, Sandy there you are,” said the tall man, springing out of the car.
“What is it?” asked Sandy, a little alarmed by the man’s enthusiasm.
“This is for you and this is for the chap over there who got the knickers,” he said brandishing two fifty pound notes as he pointed at Gonzo.
“Aye, but ye’ve already paid us…”
“I know, but yesterday,” said the tall rod fisherman, putting his arm round the shoulders of the Cock o’ the North, “Johnny here, landed a forty nine pound salmon. It’s the largest fish caught on that beat in over fifty years. One of the largest ever caught on the Spey.” The Cock o the North smiled diffidently, the pheasant feather in his Tam O’Shanter fluttering in the light breeze.
“Nae the monster…” said Robbie turning to Sandy.
“Nivir,” said Sandy.
“It must be,” said Robbie.
“Was it blind in one eye?” asked Sandy.
“How did you know that?” said the tall rod fisherman with a look of surprise.
As the bottle green Range Rover pulled away, Sandy, still grim faced at the thought that the great fish had fallen to the Cock o’ the North, turned to Gonzo, “I dinna kaen fit you’re grinning aboot,” he said, “I’ll hae that fifty pound fur the widers. And ye still owe me a tenner.”

Share these stories: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • TwitThis

Posted in Stories