How to Select Healthy New Pond Fish

By Ron Boedeker

Selecting Fish can be very simple or very complicated depending on what your goal is.

Some basic things that apply all the time are:

When you arrive at the retailers, look to see if they are taking good care of their livestock. Are there noticeable problems with the fish in any of their tanks? There should not be any stale "fishy" odor in the air. If you see problems, just leave. There is no point in buying fish that have been poorly cared for. Bringing home a health fish is the single most important thing that you can do. An unhealthy “bargain” fish” will endanger your existing fish and cause you way more grief than it was worth.

The fish should always look healthy and be alert and active. Their eyes should be clear, with no gray or tan cloudy marks. There should not be any obvious deformities, sores, ulcers, missing or damaged fins, flaring out gill covers, or mouth deformities.

Once you have selected a fish you like, you want to have the sales person put it in a clear bag and hold it up so that you can examine the underside of the fish. Again, you are looking for any of the above problems. Never let the sales person rush you and don't buy the fish until you are satisfied that in has no problems at all. The sales person's job is to sell you that fish, so they love to tell you that some "little problem" will heal up just fine.

Once you are satisfied that the fish is health, the next thing you want to look at is the color and pattern.

In goldfish, it’s pretty easy. Their color and pattern don’t change all that much, so you can just pick what interests you the most.

In koi there are two divergent paths.

  • The most common one is garden variety koi.
  • The other is koi that are judged by Japanese standards.

In the garden variety koi, which are by far the most common, you simply pick what you like and you’re done. Their color and pattern will move around, but that’s part of the joy of watching them grow and change.

In Japanese standards, the world gets complicated. In the short version, the Japanese have developed a set of standards for the various varieties of koi. They judge body conformation, skin texture, scale types, pattern, depth and uniformity of color and several other things too. So the closer a koi is to the standard the more valuable it becomes and they can get real pricey. The color and pattern may change also, but depending on the blood line and your koi keeping skills, it should be somewhat predictable.

They also tend to cost anywhere from a little more to a huge amount more.

Also, the more you pay for a koi, the more you want it to do well, so the better your pond infrastructure and your ponding skills need to be. It usually takes a few years to work your way thru all the mistakes we all make. It’s better to learn with less expensive fish.

When you go to buy new fish, I would recommend that you buy from an established koi retailer or an advanced hobbyist, as these fish are normally better cared for than fish from a garden store or general pet store. You might also want to check to see if there are any koi or goldfish are available from club members as members constantly reducing or rebalancing their population.