A Koi Story: Carp collectors come together over a love of color, size and shape

Story by Pamela A. Keene

Can fish have personalities, just like dogs and cats? A resounding “yes” say the members of the Atlanta Koi Club, many of whom have created elaborate ponds for the mystical fish that originated in Asia.
“Most of us started with aquariums as kids and this is an extension of that,” says Jerry Johnson, vice president of the Atlanta Koi Club. “There’s really nothing more relaxing than sitting next to your pond and feeding the fish. I could do it for hours.”
Koi, which are distantly related to common goldfish, can grow to between 36 and 40 inches and weigh as much as 50 pounds, depending on their habitat. Koi are bred for their color and patterns, but Koi have a body type that’s similar to its carp ancestors, longer and sleeker with less elaborate fins. Goldfish have a wider variety of body shapes and fin types; Koi are also distinguished by the barbs on their lips.
“Within the past couple of decades, breeders have introduced long-fin Koi with veil-like fins on their bodies and tails,” he says, “but by far the most popular are the ones continue to be the standard Koi.”
Jerry says Koi have distinct personalities once you get to know them. “Some are more lively than others, and it’s fascinating to watch and study them.”

Courtesy Atlanta Koi Club

Koi need filtration and aeration in their ponds, along with room to grow. “Most of us have waterfalls in our recirculating ponds, providing natural aeration to help keep the oxygen in the ponds at the right level,” Jerry says. “And it’s important to have the right kind of filtration system to prevent bacteria, diseases and parasites.”
Natives of China, Koi were embraced by the Japanese in the 19th century to be bred for their colors and patterns. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that they became popular as pets and for collectors around the world.
“Some of the best Koi in the world still come from Japan, but now there are domestic breeders as well,” Jerry says. “Koi can cost into four figures, depending on their color, patterns and origin.”
Jerry says that design, mechanics and landscaping are crucial when setting up a Koi pond. “Don’t rely on your commercial pond builder to know everything there is about keeping Koi.  Educate yourself. Do your own research. You will have to live with the results long after the pond builder is gone. That’s one of the reasons the Atlanta Koi Club exists; we are very open with our information about raising Koi and welcome guests at our monthly meetings to learn the best practices for having Koi.”
Properly cared-for Koi can live up to 50 years. Sometimes they even outlive their owners.
“People have been known to will their Koi to their children,” Jerry says. “They are certainly life-long pets when they’re in the right environment and properly cared for.”

The Atlanta Koi Club, with around 120 members, meets monthly. The March 19 club meeting takes place at the Altanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Avenue in Midtown Atlanta. It is open to guests. Additionally, the club’s Pond Tour of private Koi ponds in northeast Atlanta is Saturday, May 6. It’s an opportunity to visit approximately 10 ponds on one day and interface with owners to answer questions.
The club also produces the Atlanta Koi and Goldfish Show each fall at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. The 2017 event is slated for Friday, September 29, through Sunday, October 1, and includes a half-dozen “wet” vendors selling both Koi and goldfish, plus dealers with bonsai, home and garden materials and pond equipment. Last year, there were more than 200 Koi and 50 goldfish competing for honors in the show. The club hosts an information booth throughout the three-day gathering.
Complete information about the club, its meetings and events is available at www.AtlantaKoiClub.org.

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