Keeping koi as it is called, takes the application of both art and science to do successfully and, like most things worth doing properly, is more difficult and involved than is immediately obvious. Like cats, dogs and horses, the most interesting and beautiful fish do not happen by accident; the parents are chosen through a painstaking process and aided in breeding. But unlike warm blooded animals, the offspring are individually (yes individually!) selected from thousands of tiny little fry and nurtured along until further culling can take place – maybe two or three more times during their early development. It takes years for breeders or a few dedicated hobbyists to learn to identify young koi with possible future potential, whereas most koi keepers simply choose attractive fish they can afford.
What is the ultimate ideal koi? There is no set standard for comparison except for color and pattern in each of the 13 basic varieties. The most sought after koi are from the three most popular varieties, known as Go Sanke, and include Kohaku, white with red pattern, Sanke, white with black and red pattern, and Showa, black with white and red pattern. Females are preferred because of their fuller body shape. A well cared for mature fish might reach 30 inches or so in six to eight years.
By the time the breeder's selected fish are about one year old, their destiny is pretty much set. A small number will be chosen to be tategoi, ones that show promise of developing exceptional qualities, and further nurtured along and evaluated by the breeder for possibly one or two more years. Those not chosen, though a lower grade than totegoi, are still beautiful fish. They will be sold off to dealers for between $50 to $1000 retail. This means thousands of fish are whittled down to only a hundred or so tategoi, and will be sought after by serious koi keepers to add to their collections. Though prized koi are expensive – $1500 to $50,000 or even more – a well cared for koi can live to even 50 years in good conditions, making the investment in time and money relatively worthwhile. Though koi breeding takes place worldwide, it should be noted that Japanese breeders are considered to be producers of the highest quality koi.
If you are contemplating creating your own nirvana of garden, pond and koi, I recommend that you first learn from the experience of other keepers of koi. Please take a look at some of the articles on my website. Reading the article regarding building and maintaining a proper koi pond could be especially valuable, before beginning your own project.
Tom Burton is a longtime member of the Mid-Atlantic Koi Club Advisory Board, trained in fish health, and founder of a koi Health Hot Line, now featured in the Mid-Atlantic Koi magazine. He is a frequent public speaker on the subject of pond building and a sought out pond building consultant. His numerous published articles are widely read and he is renowned for the design and building of a highly acclaimed pond and garden. See his website at www.tomskoi.com.
- My Conversation with John Gauntner – May, 2011
- Shin Enomoto's Stuffed Animal Fellows