This article was first written for and published by Koi Carp Magazine in 2009
1. If you are choosing Koi the first thing you need to do is find a retailer that knows something about the fish that they are selling you. You are more likely to find this at a specialist Koi dealership although some Aquatic Centres will also have staff who know the history of the Koi they are selling. The best way to start is to give them a ring and ask a few questions about where the Koi they sell are sourced from and what quarantine procedures they use when they bring new fish in. Ideally, they will have quarantine facilities in a separate building from their sales area and will have the ability to raise the temperature of the fish from around 15 degrees to 23 degrees and to hold it there for three weeks. This is called heat cycling and should be done at least once, and preferably twice, to any new shipment of fish that they bring in before they are placed in sales tanks. Of course, not every dealer has the facility to do this and it may be that they feel that because they have never experienced any problems in the past, that they are unlikely to do so in the future – if that’s the case then they, and you, must understand and accept the risks that are associated with not quarantining. It isn’t just KHV that quarantining can stop spreading but, if done properly, other more common parasite and bacterial problems can be picked up too.
2. When you enter the dealership that you have chosen, take a look in all the sales tanks. What you are looking for is happy fish. How do you spot a happy Koi though? Well, a happy Koi is one that is bright and alert, swimming around the pond looking interested in its environment and you. What you don’t want to see is fish that are sat on the floor of the pond with their fins in – this means that they are feeling poorly or are particularly stressed. Stand for a few minutes watching the fish as they glide around their pond. Sometimes a fish will rub itself against the bottom of the pond. This is normal behaviour for a fish with an itch (we all have to scratch sometime!) but if several fish are continually doing this it could indicate that there is a parasite problem in the pond. Make sure that the fish in the tank don’t have any holes or ulcers as this could indicate a bacterial problem in the pond. The odd raised or dislodged scale shouldn’t be a problem, and can sometimes happen to frisky fish, but anything more could be. Don’t consider buying a fish that is in anything less than perfect health.
The fish that you are looking at should be alert and interested in what’s going on.
3. OK, so you’re happy with the health of the fish that you are looking at and spot one that you like the look of. Before you go any further, have a think about whether your pond is suitable for the Koi that you are considering. Small fish don’t always mix well with large fish as large Koi will eat pretty much anything that will fit in their mouths – even if that’s another Koi! Maybe the fish you have spotted is a bargain monster but is it going to be too big for your pond? You need to consider the extra load that a large fish will place on your filtration – can it cope? If your pond is fairly well stocked already then a particularly big fish may be enough to cause overstocking which can lead to water quality issues and health problems. Don’t buy too many fish either as this will lead to the same problems.
4. The first rule when buying a new Koi is buy one that you like! If you are on a trip with a friend then their tastes may be different to yours, remember, you are the one that has to live with this fish swimming around in your pond – don’t be persuaded by well meaning friends or helpful staff to buy something that you won’t be happy with.
5. Don’t make any decisions until you have seen the fish up close in a viewing bowl. This will give you a chance to take a good look at it and you will have the opportunity to look for any signs of damage or defects. Koi are notorious for genetic deformities and sometimes these can be quite hard to spot – even for the breeder or dealer! On Showa and Shiro Utsuri defects around the head and face are pretty common. As long as you are aware of it and it doesn’t cause the fish any problems, then a small defect doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, unless of course you are planning on showing your koi. Check that the Koi has all its fins and both eyes – it seems obvious but it has been known for some very expensive fish to make it to the show vat before a missing eye or anal fin has been spotted! A good tip is to ask the dealer to put the fish in a plastic bag and hold the bag up so that you can see all the way around the fish.
By putting the Koi into a bowl or floating basket, you can see its true quality and size.
Placing the Koi in a bag and holding it up will give you the opportunity to see all the way around it in close up and will enable you to easily spot defects and damage.
6. Take a close look at the fish. If you are aiming for high quality or show quality Koi then consider the, body shape, skin quality, colour and pattern. The body shape should be classic fusiform fish shape – wider at the shoulders and gently tapering towards the head and tail. Female koi naturally develop eggs from around the age of three and this can lead to them developing a bit of a tummy – natural but not desirable for showing. Over the age of two, male koi can be a little on the skinny side in comparison to females and whilst in the smaller sizes at shows this isn’t necessarily an issue, it could count against it as it grows. Look at the tail tube and try not to choose one that is disproportionally narrow in relation to the rest of the body.
7. Skin quality is difficult to explain but it should have a bright healthy glow to it and on larger fish, visible Fukurin (skin between the scales) is good to see. The colours should be bright and not washed out with well defined edges to the scales. If you are choosing a fish to take to a show you might be better to choose a more finished fish where all the colours are fully developed, particularly the sumi (black). If you are choosing a Koi because you want to watch it develop over time, then it’s OK to choose one where the sumi is yet to finish. For showing, the pattern should be balanced and lead the eye down the fish from nose to tail. A Showa should ideally have all three colours on the face but a Sanke should not have black on the head. There is always the odd exception to these rules that do well at shows though and you might well find that the Koi that really appeals to you breaks all the rules and looks beautiful anyway!
8. The sumi on this young two year old (Nisai) Shiro Utsuri is mostly finished and the final pattern is easy to see – the contrast between the black and the white skin (sumi and shiroji) is stunning.
This sumi on this Nisai Shiro Utsuri has yet to develop fully but when it does, it will be an exceptional Koi.
9. Develop a relationship with the dealer. Ask the dealer about the history of the fish, its age, sex, the environment it has been raised in to date, the variety you have chosen and how it is likely to develop over time. Where did it come from, how long has it been at the dealership? At this point the dealer should be asking you about your pond and filtration and how you plan to look after this fish. He should be making sure that the fish he is about to sell you is going to a good home where it will live a long and happy life. A good dealer is one that takes the time to develop a good relationship with you and who is willing to offer advice and support should you need it in the future.
10. You’ve found your ideal fish, it’s in great condition and you’re getting on like a house of fire with the dealer – great! Then you are told the price and perhaps it’s more than you thought it would be. Think about what has led you to this point. You’ve chosen this dealer because they have spent time (and therefore money) to make sure that the fish that you buy is happy and healthy (not all dealers do that and their fish are probably cheaper because of it). You’ve started to develop a relationship with this dealer and their help and advice could save you thousands of pounds in the future. The fish you have chosen is unique, there isn’t another one exactly like it on the planet and to make it into the dealer’s sales tanks it has been chosen from hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) that never got that far. It is special and you should take the time to consider the skill, time and enormous effort that has gone into producing, transporting, feeding and caring for it, now the responsibility for looking after it and providing the right environment for it to develop and flourish is yours – enjoy!