THE COUNT went to 15 as I let the tube jig drop over a deep-water crib, attempting to run some plastic above wood structure that might be holding fish.

I’m guessing the cast was halfway back to the boat when I felt the “tick” vibrate down the graphite rod right into my palm. Next came a slight bend to the rod and a hookset.

What a fight a 13-inch summer crappie can produce when water temperatures are still around 70 degrees, and their metabolism is still in summer mode. 

These are the fattest and strongest crappies of the year after feeding for months on minnows, larvae and insects. Their girth and weight is quite impressive.

Believe it or not, this fish jumped like a bass trying to throw that jig, to no avail. I needed a net to land it because the monsters are just too heavy to hoist with those “paper mouths.”

Unless you are a diehard hunter with no time for fall angling, it might be a good idea to keep that boat out of storage for another month or so.

It won’t be long and the guides will be targeting deep water on the edge of the deepest holes in the lakes, where both walleyes and crappies congregate as the lake “turnover” nears.

On the Eagle River and Three Lakes chains, that usually means fishing in 20 to 30 feet of water with an eighth-ounce jig and minnow.

At the moment it’s still outside weed edges for walleyes and perch, and deep wood for crappies.

It’s really hard to explain why a minnow-loving crappie would take a piece of plastic over live bait offerings, but several hours of fishing told the story. And I have no idea what kind of food they think a red and white tube jig represents.

These little jigs are barely one-thirty second of an ounce. They slip inside a colored tube that covers the jighead, making it virtually impossible for a bait-stealing bluegill or perch to pull the plastic off the jig.

It may sound odd to be actually counting while tracking how far a tube jig is falling but that’s what keeps baits out of snags. You learn quickly after retying a couple of times.

The cast, count down and slow retrieve method for running plastics came to me from Pat Shields of Eagle River, one of the most innovative artificial lure anglers I’ve ever had the privilege of fishing with.

The most frequent target on those cribs in late summer are crappies, for they seem to love chasing down a slow-moving bait of any sort. But be prepared to fight rock bass, perch and other bass, both smallies and bucket-mouths.

For those who don’t master the countdown method right off, you can always suspend plastics and minnows below slip bobbers, reeling them slowly above the same deep-water cribs.

The scribbler was enjoying some “last hurrah” fishing trips over the weekend, as my attention will turn fully to ruffed grouse and deer as the hunting seasons open this Saturday, Sept. 18.

It was all new stuff to my fishing partner, Alan Frackowiak of Steamboat Springs, Colo., who was working slip bobbers and counting down tube jigs for his first time.

What some people forget about the slip bobber is that when it comes to setting the hook, you must reel in the slack first and then do the windmill hookset overhead — quickly taking up any slack from a fish that loves to move upward or sideways in the water column after taking the bait.

And you have to actually count the jigs down, and reel them back with some consistency, if you want to learn by trial and error how deeply the baits are running. If you get snagged, an adjustment is needed on the counting and reeling.

Despite the action and the impressive size of these fish for the dinner table, I don’t generally fish in the fall once hunting begins. There’s just not enough days in a week to do it all, so hunting in fall comes first.

That is barring rainy days or heavy winds, which pretty much take me out of the grouse woods and back into the boat. That’s the weather we got on last year’s opener, and it turned into a fishing weekend.

A slow free-fall or extremely slow retrieve seems to attract fish of many species. I’m not sure if it’s because they love the chase or because they think their meal is getting away. Maybe it’s both.

From time to time a big largemouth bass would suck up a tube, and then the fight was on. I like bass when I’m fishing for them, but they are somewhat annoying when they are not the targeted species. Getting them quickly into the boat for a release is seldom possible, especially when it’s light tackle.

This isn’t the first time that plastics have been better on crappies than live bait. If you recall the Kentuck Lake crappie boom of the 1980s and early ’90s, a small white grub tail was all that was needed. And it could be suspended below a bobber, and not moving, and they still grabbed it.

I’m calling it a season with little remorse. Once our black Lab Gracie knows it’s game on for the hunting season, it’s really hard to leave with a boat as she watches with that sad puppy-dog face.

And the guy with a desk job needs to do a lot of walking, and soon, because it’s time to get the legs back in shape.