I was up way before daylight and on my way to Dunnellon. It was early October, about this time of year, not that long ago. Dad and I were going fishing out of Yankeetown. We had in mind catching some big reds and he knew where they were.
He had an open boat, shallow draft, good freeboard, something less than 20 feet long, handbuilt sometime in the late 50’s. The motor was a 35 horse Evinrude from the 60’s with cable controls for steering and throttling from a small console midboat on the starboard side. The boat sat on a homemade two-wheeled trailer with a heavy iron frame.
Three could fish comfortably and four, maybe, with careful attention to placement of gear and equipment. This day there were only two, Dad and me.
After breakfast, we set out on State Road 40 for Yankeetown. SR-40 runs from Daytona on the east to Yankeetown on the west and ends in a doublewide launching ramp into the water along side the channel at the mouth of the Withlacoochie River. We stopped along the way to pick up bait. We pulled up to the ramp at the first dim light of the day.
It started raining about half way there, no real concern for anyone seriously after reds. By the time we got there the wind was up, coming in hard from the southwest. Down toward Crystal River and somewhere to the east all the way out into the Gulf was this dark, purple black sky low on the horizon.
Noticeably absent were the boats, the trailers, the vehicles of others who fished these waters and who launched from this ramp and who parked on both sides of the road. It felt weird. We swung around to back the trailer down the ramp. Getting out of the vehicle with the rain heavy now, we watched the water climb steadily up the ramp several inches each minute or so.
This boat was not going into the water now. Drenched, we climbed back into the vehicle to move to higher ground. On the north, a few hundred yards from the ramp, was a small picnic area with a beach, a couple of shelters, and a basic concrete block building housing “Hers” on this side and “His” on the other.
On the way there, the water was already over the road. We pulled up with the nose of the car pointed in direction of the wind with the trailer behind. We both left the car, Dad to “His” on the other side, me, with coffee cup in hand, to the nearest shelter. By this time, that big Coast Guard helicopter with those two huge sets of rotating blades on top had already made perhaps two passes and had moved off, way off.
The ground where I stood was five or so feet higher than the ramp we had just left, and the basic concrete block building, a foot or so higher than that. The water kept rising. The wind kept rising. I leaned into the wind, one hand on an upright holding the shelter, a pole barn with an angled roof and four poles, no, pilings, holding the roof down.
The water kept rising. The wind took over, a roar and a howl, and at the same time, a high pitched scream. Then I saw it. The waterspout, the tornado, or whatever bearing down, then no longer bearing down, now there. Water was at my ankles, and something wind born was hammering my legs, my arms, leaving spots, marks, welts that stayed for days. It wasn’t sand as there was no sand out there. Perhaps it was the tips of marsh grass, or hard driven rain, or sleet or hail. Who knows?
By then, I could no longer see, my eyes glued shut. The coffee cup had long since left. The trash drums, those open ended 55 gallon drums you have all seen, had whirled, rolled, flew, who knew how else into the marsh behind. Both of my arms were wrapped around that post, as was my left leg, my right struggling to maintain balance, an upright position with my back to the wind. Then the roof of the shelter began peeling, leaving, going somewhere off into the marsh.
By now the water was near my knees. Maybe I could make it to the car, perhaps to a haven. I squinted out one eye only to see that the boat, strapped well to that trailer that was well hitched to the car, was sometimes airborne, sometimes not. Not a good idea. that going for the car, so I just hung onto that post which had so far served me well.
Man, trouble found me that day. Next time we’ll see what else happened to Trouble and Dad and the rest of “Just Another Day Fishing.”