A SMALL jig suspended under a bobber, tipped with a crappie minnow, was being retrieved at a crawl when the bobber popped and plunged below the surface on a right-leaning dive.

The rod was held by T.J. Nolan of Marion, an old friend, who came north for a day in hopes of catching and cleaning whatever panfish were going.

He came up swinging with the long but light-action rod, and a dandy 11-inch crappie cleared the water on a jump trying to throw that hook — to no avail.

That was the start of some intense crappie action on an evening last week, the fish hanging in four to five feet of water in heavy weeds.

The slow-reel retrieve seems to always work well on crappies, for their feeding appears triggered by any bait that’s getting away. The same is often true for bluegills and perch, though the two species seem to prefer a bait that’s falling slowly, naturally in the water column.

When the action slowed a bit, Nolan grabbed a bluegill rod equipped with only a bobber and a No. 4 gold hook. He dressed that hook with a nice chunk of night crawler and fired it toward the shoreline.

It only took a couple of seconds for the bluegills to find his bait, and for a few minutes, he caught fish after fish. Some of those ‘gills topped eight inches.

We don’t get together often enough, but it’s always a great time fishing with someone who shares the same outdoor traditions and values. Like the scribbler, Nolan appreciates a good fish fry and he really doesn’t care what species is on the menu.

We’ve got in common a life that centers on family, friends and work, but is undeniably influenced by a love of the outdoors and the harvests offered there.

On this outing, we kept a smallmouth bass, a walleye, two perch, two rock bass and a bunch of crappies and bluegills. It was all going to make some grand fish fries for friends and family in Wisconsin’s farm country.

Unlike most anglers, Nolan can filet fish in record time with incredible accuracy. We actually look forward to time on the cleaning table with a refreshment in hand and stories flying, sharing little shortcuts and tips on how to do it better and faster.

“I’m trying to teach my 12-year-old son about the tradition and camaraderie of the cleaning house,” he said. “This is a place where anglers meet after a long day on the water, a special place for sharing stories and preparing filets for the next fish fry.”

The legacy of gathering fish and game for the table was passed to us by a host of people from generations before: grandfathers, dads, uncles and friends of the family.

We live 95 miles apart but both share the bounty with family groups, co-workers and friends — many of whom don’t fish much but really appreciate the quality of a wild fish fry.

In true Wisconsin tradition, from a young age we were bringing home bass and bluegills from a millpond, brook trout from farm country streams, squirrels, grouse and blackberries from woodland patches, and butternuts from hardwood ridges.

And we’re not alone.

“Surely this legacy of harvest is one of the great gifts our generation has to give to the next,” said Doug Strange, then editor-in-chief of “In-Fisherman” magazine.

He wrote it so eloquently that it’s worth sharing once again, “For me, it is the essence of fishing to see fillets from fish I have caught and cleaned hit the pan with a care born of a life that has taught me how lucky I am — we are — to be able to partake of the bounty of the lakes, rivers and reservoirs that surround us.”

I couldn’t agree more, though as Strange pointed out many years ago, anglers must harvest selectively in order to ensure our fisheries remain sustainable.

Harvested wisely, fish are a renewable resource. So we’re selective where resource conservation dictates that release is best, but otherwise, our fishing is focused on meals with family and friends.

The one incident I may never be forgiven for occurred some six or seven years ago on an outing with Nolan. He caught a legal muskie on a jig and minnow and I insisted that he release it.

Apparently I didn’t recognize just how much he wanted to eat that fish, and I pretty much guilted him into throwing it back. The chiding on that one hasn’t stopped since. In fact, he still has the photo on his phone — and once again he shared that tainted memory last week.

Giving the harvest and consumption of wild things its proper credit doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy or appreciate the many other things these outdoors sports provide.

The camaraderie alone during many of these outdoor adventures is worth the price of admission. There’s always plenty of conversation and quite often, laughter. It’s pretty good medicine for whatever might be ailing you.

As an avid angler who knows a good fish fry, let me say you cannot purchase the same wild fish from a supermarket at any price.

Fish hard. Hunt hard. Harvest wisely. But by all means, don’t be afraid to harvest unless you so despise cleaning fish that you will waste them. Eat what you gather.

As a friend once said, being at the top of the food chain is worth a celebration all its own.