I can honestly say that I am a person who keeps a good eye on my fish. After a good 30+ years of fish keeping to one degree or another I believe I have developed an eye for fish that is not your typical eye. I think that I even look at fish differently than your typical fish enthusiast, and it goes well beyond the obvious enjoyment of unusual body shapes or varying colors and patterns. Over the years as I have been involved with fish I have literally been face to face with fish, I have studied them up close and from a far, in and out of water, I have swam with them and observed them behind glass. My enjoyment viewing fish is often derived from how they may be swimming or not swimming, and I greatly enjoy watching a healthy fish do what they do no matter what the species or size. I have been fortunate enough to see fish at their very best spawning and giving birth, or being predatory. I’ve grown aware of the behavioral traits of not only the individual fish, but of particular species too. I think all of this gives me a much different perspective than your average hobbyist, and I pick up on things in a fishes characteristics which the untrained eye will need many years of close observation to develop.
However, given my involvement with fish I unfortunately have observed the darker side of fish keeping, when there are problems. I have watched fish suffer and die, I have watched them gasping, rolling, and swimming without control. I have seen fish hurt, injured, and mistreated. I’ve seen massive fish kills, wipe outs, and other heartbreaking scenes. I have come to the aid of fish keepers who have a fish that they think is very old, but is actually a very sick fish, and I have to break the news. This is my job.
As much as I try to simply enjoy my fish I am constantly, somewhat unconsciously, always evaluating how my fish are doing. I keep track of how and who is growing in my stock, I learn the personality of each fish and know who is most likely to eat first and who is probably NEVER going to eat in front of me, who’s shy, who’s bold and how each one swims. I really pay attention to the details of my fish to the point of knowing when a scale is missing or a fin is torn; how much they are eating and how it relates to other factors like weather or food type. I have become aware of certain patterns that occur to fish in captivity that correlate to our current weather and how it affects fish even in captivity. I realize that fish respond strongly to barometric pressure and lunar cycles, even though that is not my objective in watching my fish, these patterns have naturally emerged. For example in saltwater fish tanks, the Ich parasite always makes an appearance in about January of every year, even in healthy tanks; and my koi spawn when the days are longest, around the equinox.
Even with all these “powers of observation” the physical and health conditions of fish can change practically before your eyes. I recently went away for a week. Before leaving I was checking my fish very closely for 2-3 days before I left as I always do, because I actually worry about them when I’m gone. So this story goes something like this…I checked my fish heavily on Thursday and Friday, I left Saturday, fed them as the last thing I did before hopping in my car with my family, and everybody (the fish) looked good each and every one of them, I had no cause for concern. I return Saturday night, count my fish, they are all there. Sunday morning, my wife and I sit pondside and feed the fish, my black koi is not coming up to eat which does not alarm me as he usually eats not quite last but never first, but I do note that he is not eating at his typical turn and actually has not really even swam over to be a part of the frenzy but is hanging back. This behavior to me immediately triggers a red flag, but I wait for him to make his way over, from a distance I can see he is not swimming “exactly” right, another flag up the mast, not only is he not swimming right he actually looks like he is much skinnier than before but I hope that maybe it is just a distortion by the water, all the same I send another flag up. Finally, the feeding frenzy cools off, my beloved black koi swims awkwardly over to me and now I can clearly see that his body is crooked, but only from his dorsal fin back to his tail. Ok, now all the flags are flying, I know something is drastically wrong with my guy. Other exterior appearance is good; no torn fins or cloudy eyes, no open sores or redness around the mouth, no scrapes abrasions, or parasites visible, in other words I have no idea why he is the way he is. I think maybe he got crushed or hurt somehow while I was away. How? Who knows? Everything in the pond seems in place. At this point I do think my fish will die during the winter as it is now September and there is not a thing I can do about it. No, I will not medicate him (that is another blog).
My point in all this is that the problems happen very quickly and often times without any seemingly good reason, and it happens to the best of us. So always keep a good eye on your fish, trust your instincts, and react quickly when you can. Your pleasure watching of your fish is also a good way to train yourself to be aware of problems with fish as well. The more info you have about their normal behavior and characteristics the better prepared you are when you are having that problem and you need to call in a guy like me who needs accurate info.

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