THE Fredericksburg region appears to have escaped a somewhat moderate outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease this year. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries confirmed last week that the viral disease, often called EHD or HD, has been reported in 38 counties this year with a total of 180 deer found dead. Worst hit are Bedford and Franklin counties. Franklin had 61 deer found dead. Prince William and King George Counties each had a couple deer reported.

Hemorrhagic disease is a common infectious disease of white-tailed deer, and outbreaks occur annually in the Southeast. In Virginia, it is most common east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Outbreaks are usually discovered as fall archery season hunters take to the woods or as hunters begin preparing hunting areas for the upcoming seasons.

Biting flies, commonly known as biting gnats, transmit the disease. Outbreaks typically subside after the first good frost kills the insects.

Infected dead deer often appear healthy until the fever that goes along with the illness sets in. One tipoff of an HD-killed deer is that they are often found near water sources. Some wade into water in futile attempts to cool the fever ravaging their bodies. There is no vaccine or medication for HD. Drought conditions seem to trigger outbreaks as deer congregate more near places where the gnats thrive.

According to DGIF, the disease poses no threat to humans or domestic pets such as dogs and cats and hunters are not at risk from handling or eating venison from infected deer.

Some deer survive the disease and it is thought they may develop some level of immunity against future outbreaks. Successful hunters who take an HD survivor can often tell the deer had the disease by the condition of its hooves. The hooves may appear cracked or look like they had some sloughing before healing. I know I have shot several deer over the years that had been HD survivors.

There is a difference between shooting an eating a deer that recovered from HD and one that appears sick. Unfortunately, HD isn’t the only disease impacting whitetails. Chronic Wasting Disease has been discovered as close as Culpeper County.

While DGIF maintains records of HD mortality reports, documenting the location and approximate number of animals involved, staff doesn’t typically visit a site to evaluate the situation. The agency’s advice to people seeing sick or dead deer is to not contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. Instead, report the approximate location of the animal to a departmental office. The Fredericksburg office number is 540/899-4169.

For more information on HD, go to dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/hd.

Autumn Smallies

Smallmouth bass are my favorite freshwater sportfish. Nothing hammers a bait like a smallie and a hook up with a three-pounder will have you swearing you’ve got something twice as big at the end of the line.

Most of my smallmouth forays on Lake Champlain in Vermont come in mid-May when fish are in their pre-spawn mode. It has been years since I targeted these hungry, hard-fighting, high-jumping autumn fish.

Bad weather Monday wiped out the first day of a planned two-excursion trip, but Tuesday was about as beautiful as anyone could hope for in an early northern New England fall.

The great thing about Lake Champlain at this time of year is that the pleasure “yachters” have all pulled their boats. With the exception of a handful of sailboats, the waters seem to belong exclusively to fishermen.

We had a slight surface chop on the water as we set out from the Mallett’s Bay Marina. Smallmouth always seem to hit better when there is a slight chop.

My brother Dana Perrotte rounded a point near Colchester in his Stratus boat, cruised a few hundred yards and then dropped the trolling motor to work an area with a rocky, gravelly bottom adjacent to a flat that had vegetation rising high off the lake bottom. My brother-in-law Bruce Collopy and I began by casting chatterbaits while Dana tossed a big spinner equipped with a stinger hook. He quickly had fish attacking the offering. Bruce and I switched to spinners.

“The first three cranks of the reel are the most important. Don’t let that bait settle. Start cranking fast as soon as it hits the water,” my brother advised. “You’ll get most of your bites within the first eight turns of the handle.”

He was mostly right. The fish seemed to react to the splash and in their aggressive, fall-feeding mode lasered in and walloped the spinners. There is nothing—repeat, nothing—like the feel of a 4-pound smallmouth slamming a bait. Your lure often stops cold in the water, leaving you feeling like you hooked into a granite wall. Then the fight begins. Autumn fish readily go aerobatic, making intense leaps from the water. How I love it!

We quickly boated a half-dozen fish and then my brother, impatient as he sometimes is, decided to leave these fish to go find other fish. Several other stops yielded a few more fish, some caught using a drop-shot presentation. A couple medium-sized northern pike also offered exciting action. Pike are strong fighters in their own right, but they pale in comparison to similar-sized smallmouths.

On good days in the fall, it is possible to catch more than 50 fish between two anglers, with a few usually exceeding the 5-pound mark. Tuesday wasn’t such a day. We guessed the very windy Monday along with the heavy rains had disrupted patterns. Still, by the time we called it a day around 2:30 p.m., we were well-worn from all the casting and retrieving.

If you’re a smallmouth fan, add a trip to Champlain to your bucket list. There are several great guides in the area and it’s about an 11-hour drive if you trailer your own boat.

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