By: Mike Gannon | Posted On: April 30th, 2012 | 26 Comments on SHUBUNKIN ALSO KNOWN AS THE POOR MAN’S KOI FISH | In: POND FISH, WATER GARDENS


You say Shubunkin, I say Shuboykin

You say Shubumpkin, I Shubunkin

Let’s call it all the same… or are they?!


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Shubunkin, the poor man’s koi, are beautiful and easy to care for calico goldfish. Shubunkin make a great choice for the backyard water garden pond adding color and liveliness to any setting. As a pond fish the shubunkin are cold hardy, can tolerate a wide spectrum of water conditions, accept many foods, and will reproduce pretty readily in a typical pond set up. They are available from most pond fish sellers; and with a reasonable price tag they have become a popular choice for water garden and pond owners.


Even though shubunkin (Carassuis auratus “auratus”) are nicknamed “poor man’s koi”; let’s face it, koi are a “hole nutha level” of fish. Koi have very distinctive patterns which will define what type of koi it is. What the shubunkin do share with koi are the nice colors, but with random speckled calico patterns of red, blue, copper, black, violet, yellow, orange, and white. Blue is the most desired background color with shubunkin aficionados. What shubunkin also share with koi is the high level of breeding standards among shubunkin breeders. Being a shubunkin enthusiast is practically a way of life. There are even competitions where members of various “societies” will show their fish for awards and ribbons for their prize shubunkin; much like those involved in “koi kichi societies”.



Attention to breeding standards has produced different types of shubunkin. According to body type, not color patterns, 3 distinct type of shubunkin have been produced. The Bristol Shubunkin, London Shubunkin, and American Shubunkin (also called the Japanese Shubunkin) make up these types. The London shubunkin could basically be described as a calico goldfish, with the same body shape as the common goldfish. The Bristol shubunkin has a more refined body shape and fins with richer colors and deeper blues and blacks. The American shubunkin has the classic shubunkin colors and markings but with a body shape more like the comet goldfish’s longer body and fins. The American shubunkin also drives a 1967 Mustang convertible and goes honky tonking on weekends, true.



If you are geek enough for this, the shubunkin have a multi-national cross-sectional background. According to fish history, the Chinese brought common goldfish to Japan. The Japanese developed calico goldfish from the common goldfish somewhere around 1900. Then some American breeders fixed the characteristics of the shubunkin. From there, the British developed the 3 shubunkin types. The British Aquarist’s Society (BAS) officially recognized the Bristol shubunkin in 1934, with the other types being recognized as developed. …no simple history to this fish.




Shubunkins are happy fast moving pond fish that get along fine with most other pond fish including koi, orfe, bitterling, and dace; but they may be too fast to be kept with highly ornamental goldfish. Shubunkin can live up to 20 years and grow to 15+ inches full size. Shubunkin have some transparent and pearly scales that catch and reflect light giving them a sparkle! Vegetable based pellets should be the staple of their varied diet, and feed the shunbunkin daily. They are very social and do best in groups, which is also the best way to display them. Then can thrive indoors in aquariums too, just give them big tanks.

The wide appeal of the shubunkin from the beginner fish keeper to the experienced fish keeper is easy to see. The ease of keeping and bright colors for the beginner, and the high breeding standards with the opportunity to claim top honors at fish competitions appeals to the experienced. The shubunkin has claimed its rightful spot among the favorite fish in the pond and water gardening world. It’s time for you to give them a try too.

Now, if we could only get the name right…shubikin, shubunten, bunkers, shubunks, shubinks, shudoobeedoos…

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Written by Mike Gannon

Mike Gannon

The LOVEYOURPOND Blog is written by Mike Gannon of Full Service Aquatics located in Summit, NJ. Mike is an award winning pond, water garden, and water feature builder. Always “In The Pursuit Of All Things Aquatic” Mike has been a lifelong hobbyist and providing professional services since 1995. Mike is the creator of The Pond Hunter video series seen on Youtube and has made several television appearances on Networks such as HGTV and the DIY Network. He also hosts the Pond Hunter Radio Broadcast, a show on everything aquatic, every other Wednesday at 8pm EST. You can see what else Mike is up to at the following sites:

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    Comments Feed
  1. Mike Gannon Says:

    on March 26, 2019 at 9:37 pm

    Hello Ginny. I do not sell at all. – Mike

  2. Ginny Roy Says:

    on March 20, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    Will you sell to individuals? Thank you. Ginny

  3. Mike Gannon Says:

    on January 16, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    Hello Roy. Yes the shubunkin can easily be wintered outdoors. Make sure the pond is at the least 24″ deep, preferably a bit deeper. Shubunkin can be housed with turtles, under the right circumstances. Enjoy!! -Mike

  4. Roy musselman Says:

    on December 27, 2018 at 12:35 am

    Enjoying reading these… was considering getting these for the pond im planning and i was curious as to how low low they can withstand the temperature dropping…. I live in the Detroit area of Michigan and winter can be brutal sometimes. Ive heard rumor that with deep enough water it’s possible to be housed all year outside. Youtube videos don’t specify enough on ” winterizing” your pond and fish. It is possible to have a heater added and airstone. Or possibly even housed inside if need be. I guess my question is , how or what do i need to make these year round outdoor fish?would it be cheaper to bring them in for the winter ? And can these be housed with turtles?

  5. Mike Gannon Says:

    on September 9, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Hello Caryl. Its hard to say if they will be ok, too many unknown variables, but I’d offer them at least some aeration to help them! Good luck. -Mike

  6. Caryl Faulkner Says:

    on August 12, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Hi I have just rescued 7 shubunkin all about 4 to 6 inches, the only place I had to put them is a large water butt 6ft wide 4 ft deep 2thirds full of rain water. Will they be ok? Don’t know what else to do for them.

  7. Mike Gannon Says:

    on April 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Hello Colleen, thanks for reaching out! Generally speaking, I don’t see any issues with the temperatures in your area. However; some ponds can be small enough that temperature will affect them. I do recommend using gravel, 3/4′ – 1″ river gravel only. One of the side benefits of grave is how it will help keep your pond cooler! Good luck! -Mike

  8. Colleen Harvey Says:

    on April 29, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    Hi! I am installing filtration in my approximately 400 gallon pond and am hoping to add shubunkin. I am a little concerned about the temperature of the water in the summer as it is in the 90-100 degrees during the days and usually in the 70’s at night. Does this sound okay or will it be too hot? The pond gets afternoon sun. Also, do you recommend putting rock on the bottom? Thank you!

  9. Mike Gannon Says:

    on January 3, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Hello Margaret! I hope the fry turn into beauties!! Good luck and thanks for reaching out. -Mike

  10. Margaret Says:

    on January 2, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    I have four large Shububkin, in an old bath above ground; outside. No filter as such but a Solar powered
    I do live in New Zealand, no snow here, and not often minus temps other than heavy frosts at times. I cover them some cold or extreme hot days and nights with a screen made of two layers of shade cloth. They are now more than 6 years old and I have never found fry! I now have 10 fry in a tank inside; which I bought. Our problem now is chlorinated water; which I have a big drum to let it sit and de-chlorinate!

  11. Mike Gannon Says:

    on October 24, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Hello Debi. Thanks for reaching out! Sorry to hear about the fish that had died. The shubunkin is more of a goldfish than a koi fish. It sounds like the plan for your pond is pretty solid so far, but have you considered possibly going part in ground part above ground? Also, you really only need about 3′ depth to be fully successful with shubunkin. When I build ponds I use a .45mil EPDM rubber liner for the pond and they hold water wonderfully for the long term, with a 20 year manufacturer guarantee. Shubunkin will likely max out in growth at about 12″. Several hundred gallons or more would be a good amount of water to keep 4 shubunkin and even a couple more type of goldfish. Good luck!! -Mike

  12. Debi Ruiz Says:

    on October 16, 2017 at 4:04 am

    Hello Mr. Gannon. Your article very nicely introduces Shubunkin as this was my first purchase this evening. I have started buying small Koi fish of different varieties and suddenly found they would not survive the night. I believe they were ill from the point of sale. I decided to go to a local pet store to purchase some more and thought that this was a Butterfly Koi fish until I saw the tag that said Shubunkin. Are they related to Koi as they are Carp or close limitations? I wanted to purchase four small Koi and place them in a 75 gallon tank until next spring. I need to build an aboveground pond that would be at least 4 feet deep. The reason being I live in Southern Oregon where we do have snow during the winter. I did call our local agencies before I decide to dig to find out if there were any utility lines below ground and found that where I wanted to originally place the pond In ground was full of cable lines. Since I could not do what I had to planned on I had to decide to build an above ground pond. I do plan on adding a filter, a heater, a variety of pond plants, and waterfall in the pond, which would be surrounded by land and rocks to insulate the pond even more. Any suggestions on pond type materials to hold water? Tires with liners, stock tanks, or any other suggestion would be appreciated. I know that Koi fish can grow up to 3 feet in length. I would like to ask you what length the Shubunkin Fish grow to and how many gallons do you believe I would need for four fish? I would truly appreciate your advice, as I want to ensure that they have an appropriate living environment. Thank you very much. – Debi

  13. Helen Storey Says:

    on August 8, 2017 at 5:56 am

    Thanks Mike – that’s useful. Rocks it is!

  14. Mike Gannon Says:

    on August 2, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Hey Helen! Aren’t shubunkins fun! It is pretty common for fish to be shy for many weeks after introduction to a new pond, give them time. I’d probably use some river rock instead of coral pieces. Have fun! -Mike

  15. Helen Storey Says:

    on August 2, 2017 at 7:11 am

    Great article – very useful. We have just made a garden pond from a very large tractor tyre – works a treat and looks great with fountain feature as past of the pump. A week ago we introduced 6 shabunkins – they’re each unique and beautiful. Don’t often see them as they hide under plant. Is this normal – are they nervous until settled? Also they are about 5 inches. Does this mean they are very young’? Would they enjoy coral type pieces in the pond with them (currently just have 3 small plants). Thanks, Helen

  16. Graham Carling Says:

    on May 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I bought 6 six inch subunkins at our local garden centre for eight pounds each and put them in a large garden pond. They “disappeared” for nearly a month, but gradually appeared until we have seen, for sure, five. We expect that all six should be seen soon. After their appearance, they swum around rather quietly, but six weeks in and they are flying around and, seem to be following one that could be full of eggs, so we are hopeful of seeing spry.
    I think they need time to settle in to new surroundings after spending part of their life in a square metal tank and seem to enjoy pushing through the bottom weeds.

  17. Mike Gannon Says:

    on April 19, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Can anybody help Ann? I’d call a local water garden center or aquarium store. Good luck! -Mike

  18. Ann Krause Says:

    on April 18, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Looking for six small shubunkins for our small pond to replace those that we had a year ago. Cannot pay a very big price.

  19. Mike Gannon Says:

    on March 15, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    I hope you enjoy your experience keeping shubunkin. They are wonderful fish indoors or outdoors. And yes, they like to eat alot! Have fun! -Mike

  20. efren Says:

    on March 14, 2017 at 8:26 am

    I found a shubunkin in a pt shop and thought it a Koi. They move in swift leaps and bound. My curiosity motivated me to acquire 4 pieces of them. I place them in my old aquarium tank. I think will love keeping more this cute shiny fish or I may breed them in full count. I observed they are voracious aquarium fish. They eat everytime pellets is drop in the tank.

  21. Mike Gannon Says:

    on December 28, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Heather. Shubunkin can easily be kept outdoor without the use of heating since they are a variety of goldfish. I can’t really recommend NOT using a filter, but if your pond is set up in a way that the water quality is balancing out naturally then a shubunkin could probably do pretty well. I’d still consider using some filtration. Good luck! -Mike

  22. Heather Says:

    on December 24, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Can u use these fish in an outside garden pond without filtration or a heater?

  23. Mike Gannon Says:

    on December 24, 2016 at 2:11 am

    They are wonderful fish Brad! Enjoy!! -Mike

  24. Brad Says:

    on December 18, 2016 at 2:16 am

    I have 4 sunbunkin goldfish Nicola, Stallion, Phonex, and Dragon in a small tank and they are wonderful i love them heaps.

  25. Wolney Says:

    on December 4, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    I love watching fihses swimming in school at the aquarium. It amuses me they way they make swirls and turns. Raising a fish in an aquarium is good hobby. It tries how patient are you in taking care of those fihses. And yours is Koi which I understand grows very big and brings good fortune to the owner.

  26. fred Says:

    on August 13, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Good read and informative overview of the “Shubunkin”. I own and now have bred the lovely fish which competes ascetically with the ubiquitous Koi! They ornament incredible pondscapes, with multiple water features, with the quiet beauty that colors only found underwater throughout the world’s reefs into your own backyard. Since they swim fast they add the “business” also found in the coral reef biosphere flashing color schemes. Thanks

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