Cottonwood Lake is 243-acre shallow, bowl-shaped basin located just north of Donnelly on the Grant and Stevens County line. A relatively new public access is located along the northwest shoreline. Typical of many shallow lakes in western Minnesota, the majority of the watershed is in agricultural production. Residential development is very limited.
This basin was chemically reclaimed in 1996 as part of the Niemackl Lakes Watershed Project. Purpose of the reclamation was to eliminate undesirable fishes and improve water quality and clarity. Current survey results indicate benefits of the reclamation are still evident. Water quality and clarity remain good, abundance of undesirable fish species remains low, and the lake continues to support a limited game fish community.
Walleye is the dominant gamefish species in Cottonwood Lake. Current survey results describe an abundant population mostly comprised of smaller fish. Mean size was 11.8 inches and 0.6 pounds in 2012. Walleye growth rates have slowed substantially in recent years due to an overabundant population and limited prey base. Alternate year fingerling stockings maintain this population. The only other game fish species encountered in the 2012 survey were northern pike and bluegill. Abundance of both species is relatively low. Small- to medium-size fish dominate both populations. Black crappie and largemouth bass have been documented in previous surveys but were not sampled in 2012. Bluegill, black crappie, and largemouth bass have been stocked in previous years in attempts to provide a limited bass-panfish fishery. Due to poor spawning and nursery habitat for these species, these stockings have failed to create self-sustaining populations.
Anglers targeting sunfish or walleye should be aware of the following special regulations. The sunfish possession limit is five fish. The walleye possession limit is three fish. However, 2012 survey results suggest expected benefits of these special regulations have not been realized and may be rescinded in the future.
Other species collected during the 2012 survey included black and yellow bullheads. The next DNR lake survey is scheduled for 2018.