The day before I left Alabama to drive back up north, I was up late. I didn’t get to bed until 3:30 a.m. – but that’s not because I was sweating bullets over a return to competition at St. Clair – I was up playing Halo with my kids before they went to bed and then finishing up the last of the packing.

Crazy as it sounds, that’s what you do after you win a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. You get hundreds of phone calls and text messages and you try to respond to them all. You take a lot of pictures, shoot a lot of videos and then head home to grab a little spare time with your family. That time is worth more to me than the trophy, but I’m not going to lie – the trophy is pretty sweet.

I had about a week and a half at home before pointing the truck and camper north again. In that time, I had to regroup and gear back up for Detroit. Everyday life doesn’t stop when you win an Elite Series event. I still had to repair the camper – re-siliconing a lot of the joints – which is one of my least favorite jobs. I had to put a new water pump in the camper and sort through a ton of tackle, which is a tedious back-breaking task.

I carry a bunch of tackle. My boat is full of it the camper is full of it, but even still, there’s a lot of stuff that I’m carrying up north that you won’t find me with down south. I leave about a third of my usual tackle behind when I drive up to smallie territory. I leave a lot of my big plastics like big swimbaits, creature baits and big worms at home. I leave some of my larger crankbaits at home too.

Why? Some of that has to do with the weather. A lot of times the water is rough up north this time of year, and I don’t want to damage my hardbaits. Some of that has to do with natural predators like pike and muskie coming after your bait, and sometimes even after your bass. And I’ve lost quite a few jerkbaits over the years to pike and muskie (more on that next time).

So what gear do I take north? Spy baits, tubes, drop shots, jerkbaits, topwater lures and spinnerbaits just to name a few (which also get taken out by pike in the grass). I arrange them in tackle boxes (thanks Bass Mafia), and along with the usual stuff, I take along some new baits to test out in the weeks leading up to the next Elite Series event. Some of those, I’m really excited about.

I won Champlain using some new hooks from Gamakatsu. They’re a Texas-rig-style worm hook, but I use them on swimbaits, soft jerkbaits and just about anything else you would Texas-rig. They’re called the G-Finesse Heavy Cover Hook, and they’re unbelievable compared to anything I’ve ever used before; that’s no line either. Sometimes at expos and shows, you’ll find me at the Gamakatsu booth obsessing over hooks – that’s how we made these. The penetration on them is ridiculous. They’ve got a coating that acts almost like Teflon, and the tournament grade wire they use makes the steel more rigid and stronger. I’m super excited about them, and they’ve definitely got a place in my hook box.

I’m got new colors in the Realis 110 and 120 jerkbaits, newly designed worms from Roboworm, new Aaron’s Edge rods from Enigma and an awesome scrounger-style bait called the Suijin that I think is named after some mystical water creature from Japan.

I’ve been fishing with and tinkering with those types of baits since I was 8 years old in the oceans and lakes in California, and this one is going to be perfect. Natural swimming action, lifelike presentation, it’s got it all, but it’s not quite on the market yet. Stay tuned for that one.

In the meantime, I’m saying goodbye to my wife and the kids, and I’m back on the road. After a few weeks at home, I might not be well-rested, but I am regrouped – and I’ve got some awesome new gear to test out while fishing some of my favorite northern lakes.

I’ve never won at St. Clair, but I feel comfortable up north. And I’m really looking forward to escaping the heat and wearing my Simms jacket again.