WE WERE watching bobbers dance in the ripples of an east wind, attempting to suspend sucker minnows over thick, deep weeds where the northern pike like to lurk in June.

It was bluebird weather with sunny skies and not very much wind, so jerk baits and swim jigs would have been ineffective compared to the teasing nature of a live, wounded-looking minnow.

Live bait is always the answer when conditions aren’t favorable, especially if you are chasing minnow-loving crappies or aggressive northern pike that prefer a little larger meal.

We were using four-inch sucker minnows, the ones that are just a little too big for jigging. Add a solid hook, steel leader and some braided line to the mix, and you are ready to do battle with the biggest of pike in heavy weed cover.

My fishing partner on this trip was Jess Spiegelhoff of Rhinelander, an avid northern angler in winter who spends too much time on the golf course in spring and summer to chase the species he’d rather eat over all others.

But a couple photos of some big pike got him stirred up enough to give up a night of chasing that little white ball, and off we went to soak minnows in one of those gin-clear lakes of the national forest.

And he got exactly what he came for.

The first bobber fired beneath the surface not five minutes into the trip, and suddenly there was a seven-foot rod doubled over in the white-knuckled hands of a guy who usually fights these toothy critters hand-over-hand, through a hole in the ice.

It made some powerful runs right near the boat, diving deep to get back into the weeds. A very tight drag still squealed, the only thing that added some “give” to the equation with that no-stretch braided line.

Eventually a northern just shy of 30 inches made its way into the net, and that’s when the really explosive thrashing began. From a fight perspective, these are not the same pike you fought in 48-degree water in May. With surface temperatures now in the 70s, these fish are everything but lethargic.

That fish and several others like it were released into the live well and eventually transferred to a big cooler of ice and water, because these fish were destined for frying, baking, broiling, deep-frying or boiling in water for poorman’s lobster.

That’s what you do with what are arguably the best-tasting fish swimming in Wisconsin’s waters. Of course you have to get past the slime, the smell and the Y bones to get to the eating part, but it’s well worth it.

Spiegelhoff and the scribbler share a passion for more than just pike, for the fishing we do pretty much centers around the harvest — the next fish fry.

Like many who read this column, we have a life that centers on family, friends and work, but is undeniably influenced by a love of the outdoors and the harvests offered there.

In true Wisconsin tradition, from a young age I was 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.

The legacy of gathering fish and game for the table was passed to me by a host of people from generations before: a grandfather, a dad, several uncles and some older cousins. I have an older brother who was nice enough to bring me along on many adventures.

One of my greatest pleasures is sharing the bounty with family groups, co-workers, community-minded volunteers and friends — many of whom don’t fish much and really appreciate the quality of a wild-caught fish fry.

I’ve got people at the News-Review office, on some of our fish-fry luncheons each year, who tell me they don’t really eat fish as they fill their plate a second time. They are spoiled because you can’t find that kind of fish at the supermarket.

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

And those meals, let me say, can range from breaded or beer-battered fillets deep-fried in hot oil to meals of poor man’s lobster pike, baked walleye on a bed of wild rice, stuffed pike with a shrimp and crab dressing, and fish chowder — to name just a few.

Then there’s pan-fried crappie, grilled brook trout or one of my favorites from the smoker, including cisco and lake trout. 

And I’m not alone.

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

“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,” he wrote so eloquently.

Whether keeping fish or not, I love the challenges of locating fish, setting the hook and fighting them with rod and reel. The camaraderie alone during many hours of these outdoor adventures is worth the price of admission. It’s pretty good medicine for whatever might be ailing you.

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.