Rod vs. The Bees

Anytime that Rod makes an appearance during a fishing trip you can be guaranteed that there will be some funny stories to relate about his adventure. His appearance during the 2004 Kenai trip was no exception. I could relate the story of how his first fishing foray almost turned into a fiasco while we battled sockeye at Bing’s Landing. Or how the evening after our halibut trip we went back to the airport to sockeye fish and Rod got “schooled” by the rookie girl who stepped in next to him. Or even Rod’s combat battle where he ended up boot-hooking his neighbor on purpose and then ended up taking the guy’s fish whacker and glove. Those are all excellent stories which I will someday relate, but for my purposes today, I think the story of his battles against the bees is the best one of all.

Rodney finally made it up to Alaska again, after a four year absence. Flying up on the 21st of July, I picked him up at the Anchorage airport and we made the dark drive down to the Kenai in order to hit the river early the next morning. We fished in a variety of spots, but our main camp and fishing spot was at the airport hole.

Back then – the airport spot was a very special place – attested to be a crude sign that someone put-up which read – “The last free beach in Alaska” – or something like that. The camping spot was housed on a privately held gravel pit – which was opened up for free public use. Eleven months of the year it was practically deserted. One month a year it had the population of a small country. Almost everyone there was there to target sockeye salmon. It seemed that there was as many ways to take care of and process fish as there were vehicles in the pit. As a result, by the middle of July, the yellow-jackets were out in full force, foraging the ground around every vehicle and motorhome.

Early in the month, you might see a bee here and a bee there, but by the middle of the month there seemed to be a team of 10-20 bees assigned to each motorhome or camper. For the most part, the bees were pretty docile – I’ve never been stung anyways. The bees just went about their business – looking for miniscule scraps of food – preferably sockeye flesh. Yes, they really really love that sockeye flesh and slime. I’ve found that one of the best ways to attract bees is to toss a slime-filled Ziplocs on the ground outside your vehicle. Within a few moments I guarantee there will be half a dozen bees investigating the Ziplocs. Then if you step on the Ziplocs and kill a bee inside, they give off a pheromone and even more bees will be attracted to the area. In all, the fish-slime Ziplocs is a great bee attractant.

Well, lets take the bee’s love of fish, multiply it by the peak of the sockeye run factor, and multiply that by the peak of the tourist factor. Then throw in the lack of cleansing rain during the whole month of July and that forms the “bee conditions” that were present during the time Rodney showed up to fish.

Typically during our fishing sessions we’d both retire from the river at about the same time and head back to my motorhome (yes – this was a few years before I bought my place in Kasilof). Upon arrival at the motorhome, I’d change out of my waders and immediately begin the “fish processing” procedure. Thus, I’d bring my bags of fish into the motorhome and set them in the kitchen sink while I prepared the ac/invertor and the vacu-seal for fish processing business. Rod on the other hand, typically would set his bag of fish outside the motorhome on the ground and turn his thoughts to other things such as eating or taking a nap. As I’d go through my procedures, I’d process one Ziplocs bag of fish at a time (approximately 2 sockeye). As I processed the fish, I’d empty my fish slime out onto the ground behind the motorhome and then start a garbage bag of slimy Ziplocs out near the back bumper. By the time I was finished processing my six sockeye (about 30 minutes) there were a few bees swarming around the back of the motorhome and the Ziploc garbage bag. But, hey, I was finished and it was Rod’s duty to haul off garbage while he was there, so I was in good shape.

Now as I mentioned before, Rod usually took his time getting around to processing his catch. Many times it would be hours before he got around to the task. Additionally, as a money saving effort, Rod didn’t always use Ziploc bags to protect the fish inside his gunny sack, instead he just tossed all of the filets straight into his gunny sack. Usually, by the time Rodney got around to dealing with his fish the yellow-jackets had already discovered the “mother load” and would be buzzing up a storm around his sack of fish. In fact, often times some of the bees had made their way into the sack and were already feasting on the exposed salmon filets. It was not unusual to see Rod swatting at attackers or jumping back suddenly in fear as he reached into his bag to grab his fish. This usually gave me a pretty good chuckle as I watched his performance.

Repeatedly I would tell him with confidence, “Don’t worry about the bees, Rod. They won’t hurt you. They’re docile.”

For some reason Rod never believed me when I’d tell him the bees were docile. This was especially true on one afternoon in particular. We were both outside the motorhome sitting in our folding chairs enjoying the afternoon. My fish were processed and in the freezer already. Rod finally got around to working on his fish. Swatting away bees as he reached into his gunny sack, he suddenly cries out in great pain – “Ow!”

Then he began to hop around one one leg, favoring his other foot, while cursing up a storm, “So the bees are docile, huh? Yeah – docile my ass. Owwww! Son of a b*%ch just stung me in the big toe. Owwww….”

I tried not to laugh, but couldn’t help myself. There’s Rod hopping around with one foot in his hand, almost in tears from a bee-sting in the big toe. Rod was out of action for a good 15-20 minutes tending to his toe. He started to walk with a bit of a limp, too. I have to admit I was a bit amazed. The bees always seemed docile to me. Sure they were always buzzing around and flying by me, but at no time did I ever fear being stung or attacked. After all, I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I’ve never had a problem. And now here’s Rodney, been on the river for three days and he’s already making enemies with the bees.

After getting back into action and processing his fish, Rod started carrying out his retribution against the yellow-jackets right away. Behind the motorhome he setup a couple of good fish-slime Ziplocs on the ground. Within about half an hour his bag contained about a dozen bees. He took the honor of stamping the life out of them with a vengeance. Though I counseled him that he wasn’t going to make much of a dent in the bee population, Rod was inflamed with a desperate need for revenge.

Even though Rod got a small measure of revenge on the bees that day, I must give the psychological advantage to the yellow-jackets at that point. For the rest of the vacation, Rod was noticeably gun-shy whenever he had to reach into his gunny-sack or grab the garbage hanging on the side of the rig, or even when a bee would penetrate the sacred confines of the motorhome interior. Yes, one time a bee got inside the motorhome while we were processing fish and Rodney immediately bailed out – demanding that I kill the intruder. It was a quick and merciless kill, but I was really surprised at the way Rod panicked and made for the door to get out of the motorhome. Man, that bee-sting on the toe must have really hurt.

A few days later we again came back to the motorhome with our piles of fish. Both of us were exhausted from our early morning fishing session. Before I passed out for a few hours, I took the time and processed my fish. Rod laid down in the back bunk to wait for me to finish, but by the time I had completed my processing, he was sound asleep.

Once again, Rodney had gone to sleep with his gunny sack of fish laying on the ground out in the sun. Not exactly the thing I would do if I were bee-shy.

A few hours later when we start to stir, Rod got up and prepared to process his catch. By now I’m out in one of the folding chairs, taking in some breeze, as the motorhome really heats up inside during the heat of the day. So there I am watching Rod gingerly reach into his bag and then quickly dash into the confines of the motorhome to escape the whirring flurry of the yellow-jackets. Every few minutes Rod would dash back outside to grab another sockeye filet to process. About the third time he comes out, he fumbles around in the sack a little longer than usual.

All of a sudden, he leaps back into the air and gives out a cry, “Damn bees…….owwww! Owww!”

This looks like a repeat of the episode of the previous day.

“What happened?” I asked, already knowing he got stung again. Mainly I just wanted to know where.

“F*#ker, stung me in the big toe, on my other foot. Oww!!!”

So, once again, there’s Rodney doing the one legged hop-hop-hop, holding his stung toe in his hand, cursing at the bees right and left. I couldn’t help but laugh again. I mean, I tried not to laugh out of respect for Rod’s pain, but I just couldn’t help myself.

“Docile f*#king bees my ass” was about all I remember him saying.

Another few days go by and now Rod has gone from bee-shy to extremely bee-shy. The airport parking lot has really cleared out by now and there is a lot of room between rigs. We parked right in the middle of the lot surrounded on all sides by other campers, although, none of them were right on us. But, basically, we were the middle of the stage.

Once again it was Rodney’s turn to process his fish – which once again had been sitting out in the sun collecting bees for a few hours.

This time however, Rod has devised a new strategy for getting his filets out of his gunny sack. As I watch him from the doorway of the motorhome, Rod picks up his bag on a mad dash and sprints about 15-yards out into the gravel pit. Quickly, he drops the bag and digs out a filet. He runs it back into the motorhome and then dashes back out to his bag. Without breaking step, he picks up the gunny sack again, and with a juke left and a juke right and a swat at a nearby bee he makes another 15-yard dash around the side of the motorhome, where he drops the bag again and grabs out another filet. He repeats this procedure about 6 or 7 times until he’s retrieved all of his sockeye filets. This was the funniest thing I had ever seen in all my times with Rodney. I was literally on the floor laughing out loud for about 15 minutes during this escapade. I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if anyone else is watching this and just what do they think is going on over there?

And to this day, I can still hear Rodney say, “Docile my ass?”