Fishing Cochnewagon Lake with Paul Dionne

DockTalk365 Maine

Paul Dionne with a Cochnewagon Lake Largemouth Bass

I am not sure if I should say that I interviewed Paul Dione or MacGyver. You will see what I mean when Paul describes how he outfitted his canoe. Not only is his canoe totally awesome, but his advice is fantastic about fishing Maine’s Cochnewagon Lake. The lake is located in Kennebec County and gets overlooked by anglers for some of the more popular bass fisheries in the area. But as you will see Cochnewagon has its own place in Maine’s bass fishing destinations.

As a fellow canoe angler, I love “the battleship”! How long have you had the canoe? What have you done to it to make it better for fishing?

I found “the Battleship” on Craigslist for $100 three years ago when my wife and I moved to Biddeford Maine. It was under 3 years worth of pine needle droppings and looked rough to say the least. What was left of the faded stickers on its side read Gazelle Kennebunker. It looked sea worthy for my needs so I took her home.

I know nothing about canoe repairs but YouTube has every how-to video ever needed. I never actually got to use boat until we moved to Monmouth, Maine a year later. I started upgrading the old rotted wood seats with some 2×10” boards I picked out of the transfer station aka garbage dump.

Paul Dionne's "Battleship" Canoe

Paul Dionne’s “Battleship” Canoe

That brought on the challenge of trying to make the vessel into a fishing machine without sinking another cent into it. I soon added typical PVC pipe rod holders and I found a discarded railroad car brake pad to drag as an anchor. I found an old electrical wire tube on the side of the road that protects any wires or ropes I need to run on the boat. I rigged an old screen door spring on a board to create a flip up location for a fish finder transducer but found floating the transducer worked better. Lastly, I built a small mount for a trolling motor behind my seat.

I worked for Kittery Trading Post for a couple years and was able to try just about every kayak out there and none of them were as comfortable as “the Battleship.” I am able to stand and fish in it all day and walk from one end to the other comfortably. Comfort outweighs speed as it is a beast to paddle and load/unload but its good exercise and once its on the water I feel like I’m in a bass boat.

What do you enjoy most about fishing Cochnewagon Lake?

My wife and I moved to Maine from Michigan for her to attend University of New England’s medical school. For her third year we were fortunate enough to rent a house on Cochnewagon Lake in Monmouth Maine. I fished the lake probably 25 times in all seasons while living there.

The lake is smaller than its neighboring Sabattus and Cobbosseecontee Lake and is oval shaped with a max depth around 35 feet in the middle. A public beach and state boat launch are located on the North end and homes and cabins become more sparse the further South you go on the lake.

It has a sandy bottom with occasional rock piles. This lake is more enjoyable to fish the surrounding ones, especially from a kayak or canoe due to the smaller size deterring jet skiers and speed boats looking to wash out innocent canoe anglers on the larger local lakes.

Also, it seems to be shielded from the wind pretty well. On flat surface mornings you can look down and watch 5-8 pound largemouths ignore your lures in 10’ of water. I ended up catching one fish of every species in the lake before I moved away from it.

Brown and brook trout are stocked in the winter for an annual kids ice fishing derby put on by Jack Traps company which is a world renowned fishing brand local to the lake. Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Pickerel, Sunfish, Yellow Perch, White Perch and Golden Shiners also inhabit the waters. You can fish the lake on foot from the launch ramp dock or sneak your way down the railroad tracks…I’m not telling you to do this…to a sandbar at the opposite end of the lake and wade in to catch fish in the shallows.

Typical Cochnewagon Lake Bass Caught by Paul Dionne

Typical Cochnewagon Lake Bass Caught by Paul Dionne

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most difficult, how do you rate the Lake’s summertime bass fishing?

I would rate the summer bass fishing on Cochnewagon Lake an 8. It’s size and trophy potential keep it from being a 10. It is a small lake so in a motored boat you would be fishing the same spots repeatedly in one morning. The fish themselves are aggressive and action is constant though most of the fish are 8-12” and very easy to catch.

I have caught many 5 to 6 pounders and have seen fish that dwarf those that might push double digit weights swimming the shallows often. Trophy sized sunfish and bass are possible and fat stocked trout that make it to spring are all possibilities. I caught fish on spinnerbaits, wake baits, swim baits, plastics, frogs and flies. My favorite bait to use was a Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow in white or yellow. The best bass fishing is in the rocky Southern end of the lake near the railroad tracks. The best perch fishing is in front of the apple orchard. The best trout fishing is around the launch and the best pickerel fishing is in the shallow Northern bay.

What level of boat traffic does this lake get?

The lake is much easier to navigate than the larger surrounding lakes as you can’t get lost. It can get its fair share of vacation traffic in the summer. My suggestion is to fish at sunrise and on weekdays. There are many camps on the lake and every other camp has an idiot trying to flip canoes and kayaks with his jet ski wake. Get up and on the water while those dummies sleep in and the water will be glass. Only you, the eagles, and a few thirsty deer will be the only ones around.

Do use a fish/depth finder on the canoe?

I wrote earlier of my personal challenge to not spend money on “the Battleship.” I was lucky enough to win a fish finder from an Instagram giveaway put on by Garmin. I rigged it to a board on the front seat that flipped up by spring with the pull of a cord. I found that floating the transducer next to the canoe worked better for me and kept it safer than having it stationary.

As an improvement I rigged the transducer to an old toilet plunger floated in the middle of a pool noodle instead. I don’t use any electronics or a motor very often as I enjoy the stealth abilities of the canoe when sneaking into fishing areas that most boats can’t.

Cochnewagon Lake does not require electronics to catch fish but it might help find some new structure in the deeper water to fish. I tend to look at surrounding contours of the lake for a general idea of depths. If there is a large slope leading to the water, it probably continues past the shoreline into the lake. I look for surface vegetation and surface fish activity as well.

Lastly, I cruise a lot looking into the water for rock piles and sunken debris that could hold bait. I rarely cast blindly without targeting a particular fish or cover. I caught 90% of my fish in 6 inches to 10 feet of water. I only caught white perch deeper while dragging Rapalas behind my canoe with leadcore line 4 colors out. In ice fishing season I caught trout on the South end in 12 to 18 feet of water consistently with shiners.

One aspect of fishing from a canoe is space and organization. I see you have lots of rods in the arsenal. What are 3 must have rod, reel and lure setups when you are fishing the Lake in the summertime?

Summertime fishing can be fast and furious on the lake when you find the right bait. I take 6 rods with me typically, sometimes more. Here is an idea of what they consist of:

These three rods I keep behind me and are very specific to target certain fish in certain situations on Cochnewagon:

1. 5# Redington Fly rod typically with a streamer fly on it in case I get bored.
2. 8” Wright and McGill Lead Core trolling set up if I am meat fishing for White Perch…delicious.
3. 7’ Ugly Stik Ultra Lite with Shimano Sedona 750 reel, 5# power pro braid for targeting big pan fish.

Here is the meat and potatoes of what I use for bass that I lay in front of me or stick in rod holders on my sides to keep handy:

4. 7’ 6” Shimano Clarus or St. Croix Eyecon rod with Shimano Sedona 2000 spinning reel, 15# power pro with 4’ 8# fluorocarbon leader. This set up is for plastics, typically small Northland mimic minnows or Lunker City paddle tails and sometimes worms.

5. 6’ 6” Shimano Convergence with Quantam Smoke 2500 spinning reel, 15# power pro line. This set up is for top water baits. It may sound weird but this set up gives me versatility I can’t find in longer, heavier baitcasting set ups and I can finesse the top water baits a little more. There are minimal lilly pads in the lake so I don’t need heavier equipment while casting to the shore.

6. 7” Shimano Sojourn rod with Quantam KVD baitcasting reel, 30# power pro with 2-3’ 14# fluorocarbon leader. I run mostly Rocky Ledge Tackle spinnerbaits but will throw Spro square bill cranks and Smithwick Rogue jerk baits with this set up as well.

I should mention I am generally right handed and this is my only set up that is right hand retrieve because reeling and burning in lures outweighs the importance of rod and lure control. In my spinning set ups I like having left hand retrieve reels with the rod in my right hand to have more control over the bait. I use fluorocarbon leaders a lot as most of my early fishing experience is walleye based so line visibility is a concern of mine.

Cochnewagon Lake Smallmouth Bass Falls to a Rebel

Cochnewagon Lake Smallmouth Bass Falls to a Rebel

What other baits do you love to throw on this lake during the summer?

1. First and foremost the white or yellow Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow as I have described in a few of my answers was my #1 bait for this lake. If you can get the bait to walk back and forth you will catch a ton of fish of all species.

2. A fun swim bait to try that I have caught the bigger brookies and brown trout on as well as bass is the Daddy Mac Viper 3” in silver which is a local New England company.

3. The Rebel Blue Gill in the natural color also caught trout and bass for me consistently. Sometimes 10 straight casts. Yellow Perch are probably the most abundant fish in the lake and can be decent sized so be ready to hook up with countless perch if throwing this bait.

Let it be known; I do not pledge allegiance to any bait brands. Two of the three best baits for me just happened to be made by Rebel. Just about anything will work on good days.

What is the mix between smallmouth and largemouth on the lake?

My catch rate was probably 4:1 Large to Smallmouth Bass. I caught most of the Smallies on top water baits in the sandy 3-4’ water in the summer during midday. The Largemouth definitely run a little bigger and are a little less picky with baits and are all over the lake. If I wanted to target Smallmouth I would stick to the two little sandy bays on each side of the lake and throw top water lures.

For those have never been to the lake, what are 5 must know things about fishing the lake before they spend a summer day on the water?

1. Bring a full tacklebox. If the bite is on you get a chance to use the lures you don’t have a lot of confidence in and get some practice catching fish with them.

2. Watch the water for surface activity. The stocked trout will travel the water like a pack of wolves and chase the bait to the surface. You can target them or the big bass that follow them. They like staying deep, conserving energy while feeding on any sinking scraps from the trout feeding frenzy above.

3. Keep it local. Stop at Jack Traps for bait or tackle before launching. Ask them how deep they bass are. Leave time for lunch at the General Store next to the launch that makes excellent food, especially pizza. Keep an eye out for the eagles that live on the lake. There are many of them and are fun to watch.

4. Pack light. You can paddle from one end to the other in about 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Leave the trolling motor and battery at home and relax. You will catch plenty of fish.

5. Bring a newbie with you! This is the place to bring kids or anybody new to fishing. There are plenty of fish and the water is perfectly calm if the wind is under 10mph. It’s the perfect place for any fisherman to perfect their craft.

Thanks Paul. This sounds like a really cool lake to fish. I also love your ingenuity with your canoe and your candor in describing the fishing on Cochnewagon Lake. 

Follow Paul on Instagram @pjdionne12 for all of his fishing and updates to “The Battleship”.

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