By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN For several years, it has been a goal of the Cokato Lake Improvement Association (formerly the Cokato Lake Association) to improve pan fishing on Cokato Lake.
Just recently, the association stocked crappies in the lake for the second year in a row, according to association president Louis King. This year will also be the sixth year it has stocked sunfish (bluegill) in the lake, he added.
The association also has a goal of increasing its membership, which is why it reverted to its original name Cokato Lake Improvement Association.
“The association is for people who care about Cokato Lake, not just for homeowners (on the lake),” King said. “The more people that take ownership and care about the lake, the better it will be.”
Along with people who own a home on the lake, the association wants to attract those who own seasonal lots at Cokato Lake RV Resort, and those who fish the lake frequently, King noted.
Those interested in getting involved, or for more information on Cokato Lake Improvement Association, may e-mail CokatoLakeAssociation@gmail.com.
Attempting to create a good pan fish lake
In area lakes, crappies tend to go through ebbs and flows, being abundant for several years, then becoming scarce for several years as the population rebuilds itself, according to DNR Montrose Area Fisheries Office Supervisor Joe Stewig.
He noted over-fishing is one reason for the fall in crappie population; once anglers hear there is good crappie fishing on a lake, they tend to over-fish it. A crappie’s lifespan is typically about 10 years, he added.
However, it seemed like the crappies in Cokato Lake were not repopulating quickly enough this time, which is why the association decided to start stocking them in the lake, according to King.
Recently, the association stocked the lake with 1,500 crappies.
King said that many people living on and using the lake have children and grandchildren.
“Pan fish are the fish of choice for young people to catch,” he said.
This year, 1,000 sunfish will be stocked into the lake.
The lack of vegetation in Cokato Lake is probably the main reason for its lack of sunfish, according to Stewig.
Sunfish and other pan fish rely on lake vegetation for habitat and to hide from predators, he explained.
“If aquatic vegetation goes, there goes the pan fishing,” Stewig said. “If there is no place for them to hide [from their predators], they are not going to survive very well.”
When Stewig began working at the Montrose Area Fisheries Office, he remembers thinking that Cokato Lake’s fishery was strange.
There were a fair number of smallmouth bass and catfish, but no bluegill.
“It doesn’t seem right. It’s different than any other lake in the area,” Stewig said.
In fact, the 2007 fishery survey stated, “With its shallow shoals, lack of aquatic vegetation, and the influence of Sucker Creek, Cokato Lake has been hard to characterize.”
The survey noted that submersed aquatic plants grew out to a depth of only six feet, and that vegetation will typically grow out to a depth of 12 to 15 feet in most area lakes.
The association attempted to plant aquatic vegetation in one area of the lake recently, but it did not do as well as hoped, according to King.
Some theories about the lack of vegetation include the abundance of carp in the lake and its “lunar-scape-like” bottom, Stewig said.
Carp damage aquatic vegetation by eating and uprooting shallow-rooted plants, according to the DNR.
The bottom of Cokato Lake is very sandy, rather than mucky like most area lakes, Stewig noted.
While pan fish may be hard to come by in Cokato Lake, other fish species are fairly abundant.
The population of walleye in Cokato Lake is the best it has been since the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the northern pike population is the best it has been since 1980, according to the most recent fish survey, completed during the month of August 2014.
There were three times more walleye in the lake than eight years ago, King said, noting gill nets pulled up about four walleye per lift and seven northern pike per lift.
“That’s pretty good, and it’s getting better. It’s been exciting,” King added.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been stocking walleye in the lake since 1946, according to Stewig.
This year the association is also planning to rear walleye fry in a pond near the lake to be released into the lake, according to King.
Other fish species that draw people to fish Cokato Lake are smallmouth bass and channel catfish, which both have healthy populations at this time, according to Stewig.