Many who keep koi follow a similar path. Most first become introduced to koi by chance, casually; perhaps at a backyard party of an acquaintance or at a public garden. Then, knowing nothing about koi except that they stirred you somehow; a relationship begins. Suddenly you find yourself thinking about koi more and more. On the weekend or even at work you spend time Googling koi, surfing the koi sites, skimming through photos and videos of amazing koi. You’re already hooked and don’t even realize it.
Again, knowing nothing about koi, you find yourself behind the wheel driving to “invest” in an aquarium so you too can keep koi. You walk into “PetThis”, the kid stocking the cat food sees that your pocket is on fire, words are exchanged over in the fish department and he sends you back on your way with a seemingly HUGE 90 gallon fish tank and hundreds of dollars worth of inadequate filtration. You feel happy, the cat food stock boy feels happy.
At home, you set up the tank; it takes all weekend, nobody sees you during this time because, let’s face it, this is a mission. Then the fish tank is filled, filters are cranked and you’re done. It is now late Sunday night and you unveil what you have done to your wife, kids, and 4 unwilling neighbors too. You’re proud, you’re ready for koi, you’re feeling Kichi and you don’t even know what/who they are yet!
Back to “PetThis”. To your delight, the cat food kid is there. To his delight, your pockets on fire, and he indeed has some top qulaity koi to help put out that burn. As the kid pulls 5 koi out from the 20 gallon display tank, he catches by mistake, 1 shubunkin and 2 comets that are mixed in with the koi but he puts them back. “I think these are from Japan”, he tells you; and you are blown away by the deep knowledge that this 15 year old has of these fish that you want so badly. Payment of $22.50 for all 5 koi is made to “PetThis”, and you quietly acknowledge to yourself that these fish are very expensive. You fly back home with your precious cargo. It is time to release the koi!
You drag back the wife and kids. You then …release the koi! The 5 koi drift into the immensity of their new home, as you envision many many years of enjoyment coming your way. Your kids plaster themselves to the aquarium front, delighted. Your wife leans into you smiles, she likes them too. You done good. “How much were all these fish?” she asks. “15 dollars for all of them”, you steadily reply. She gives you the “wow, those are expensive” look. You shrug, and spend the next month camped out by the tank, obsessed.
So now you have done it. You got koi, you are a koi keeper. Back to the internet. Now it is time to actually learn about the koi you are keeping in this behemoth fish tank. You do more research on these fish that you now hustle home after work to spend time with. The koi are growing much faster than you thought. One koi has fins that seem much longer than the others, you wonder if it might be deformed. The more research you do, the more you now start to sink deep deep into the world of mis, dis, and too much information on koi. You join a koi forum and desire to chime in on your new found experience with koi but find no one wants to talk to a newbie guy who is keeping koi in a fish tank, and even catch a scolding from 1 or 2 experienced koi keepers who have had a pond for over a year now. You gather from them and the others that if you want to keep koi, you need a pond. A BIG pond, we’re talking like ONE THOUSAND GALLONS!!!
You talk to a few professionals, like the guy that cuts your neighbor’s grass, about building a pond. He assures you he can build you a pond; he has a wheel barrow and a shovel, he can do it. $800.00 outrageously priced dollars later, you have a 4 ft by 7 ft by 12 inch deep koi pond in your back yard that you have been assured is at least one THOUSAND gallons, even though it doesn’t look like it. You drop another couple of hundred on your canister filter with a high tech UV light built in. You step back, you’re pretty satisfied with your new pond, your wife looks at you through the kitchen window, and she’s not smiling this time.
You go to get your 5 koi that have now quadrupled in size and seem to be crowded in the now relatively tiny fish tank. You bring them outside, prep them, and then you…release the koi! Awesome, officially a koi pond, back to the koi forums and now a look at pond forums too. Now you’re cruising, checking out photos and stories, sharing your experience, learning more, and it begins to dawn on your that your pond actually sucks, AND the koi are going to die in the winter if they are not brought inside, because the pond is not deep enough. You are staggered by the amount of equipment, time, and monetary resources that your new found koi pond community has to spend on their ponds. You even see koi keepers that heat their ponds year round! The heating system alone was 5 grand.
You are in deep, emotionally and otherwise invested with koi now; you’re embarrassed by your pond and need to do something about it. If you’re ever going to have koi keeping friends come by to see your pond, you need to step up and start playing with the big boys. You research and find some pond installation professionals, guys who really do this stuff, for real.
Consultations happen. First guy gasps upon seeing your pond and asks, “Where is the bottom drain?” You replied, “The what?”. Next guy said, “You have no rocks, gravel, or plants! This is just a plastic tub!” You said, “Do I need them?” Both professionals then proceed to insist their way is right. Both professionals insist their method works better, and is easier to maintain. Both claim that koi will thrive in the pond they will build. Both seem honest and seem to know what they are talking about. Both claim their way is the only way to do a pond and be successful. Both will require thousands of dollars from you to get the job started. You find yourself wishing that the cat food stock boy was there to console you, because you don’t know what to do.
And you’re not alone.
Does this sound familiar?
What ever happened to that base child like feeling of just wanting to keep koi for the pure enjoyment of it? Share with others for the thrill of keeping amazing koi? How did all these “rules” come about? Why are there so many schools of thought, and all of them claim they are the “right ones”? Can everyone be a little right? Can methods and schools of thought be combined, mixed, and fused and still be successful? All you really want to do is the right thing for your fish, but the more you try, the wronger you are! The more money you spend trying to do it better, the more criticized you get. If you choose this method, they won’t talk to me, if you choose that method, the others won’t talk to you. Can’t we all just get along? Can’t we all agree that there are many paths to success with koi keeping and that one’s definition of doing it “right” is not the others. Isn’t it really about our base primal connection to these fish, and that first time they truly caught your attention and made you smile. Isn’t it about our journey with koi and everything that we do to nurture this most unusual relationship between humans and koi? Primate and fish? Isn’t it about our struggle to make these fish happy, no matter if we have them in a 20,000 gallon state of the art professionally constructed koi pond or if we have them in an old bath tub on a back porch with kids gathered round it tossing in bits of last nights rice for the fish to eat.
Let’s keep it about the koi, not who has the biggest or most expensive koi. It’s not about filters and equipment, plants and gravel, salt and chemical treatments, concrete and EPDM, bells, whistles, or who can afford the biggest pond. Let’s keep it about that incredibly unique connection that we ALL have experienced between human and fish, there is something very special in that connection, we can’t lose that, we need that child like connection that we all have deep inside regardless of HOW we are keeping our koi. The point is simply that we are all doing our best to nurture our koi to the best of our abilities within each of our particular circumstances.
We are all of the tribe of koi keepers, we are world wide. We cross cultural, religious, and political boundaries. Many of us are wealthy, many of us struggle, many of us are living in abject poverty; yet still manage to find a way to keep and share with others our koi; and to all of us our koi mean something special. That child from rural Malaysia with no shoes who has not eaten today, enjoys seeing his koi no less than the suburban kid who crosses his manicured backyard to sit by the pond with a waterfall to feed the koi. Which one of these kids is keeping koi “right”?
We are all of the tribe of koi keepers.
All copyrights to this material belong to Mike Gannon.