Category Archives: Koi and Ponds

THE INS AND OUTS OF KOI POND BUILDING by Mike White, White Water Filters PART 6: Mats, Pads and Biofall Filters

PART 6: Mats, Pads and Biofall Filters

In the last issue, the topic covered was biological filtration basics. This article will begin to cover the actual filters on the market.

To begin, there is no perfect filter. We will begin with the most popular biological filter, the biological waterfall. Many companies manufacture these units. They all have a similar design. This is an upflow design, meaning that the water comes in the bottom and then flows up and out of the unit. The output of this filter is designed to be the beginning of a waterfall. The unit is comprised of either a plastic or fiberglass container. Two or three polyester pads are placed horizontally in the container. These are supported off the bottom by pipes or a rack system. Water flows in under the pads and is supposed to flow up through the pads.

Bags of rocks or something similar are set on top of the pads. The manufacturer says this material allows for more filtering to occur. In fact, they are there to hold the pads down to prevent the water from pushing the pads up. Some manufacturers provide a container for plants at the top of the unit.

Let’s first consider the down side of these units and then take a look at the up side. The first problem is using an upflow design with polyester pads. As the pads start to grow bacteria they begin to clog and the water finds it is easier to go around the pads than to go through the media. This is because the water pushing up helps to push the pads away from the walls of the container. With no water going through the pads, the bacteria are deprived of oxygen and die. Then there is the matter of the bags of material on top. There are usually two to three bags for media. Again, water is usually going to go around the bags of media instead of inside. In addition there is the size of the container versus the flow of water through it. In most cases the water flows through the container in a minute or less. At that rate the bacteria that converts nitrite to nitrate can’t survive.

Although I stated I would include the positive features of this type of filter, there really aren’t that many. While there is some filtering occurring, it is not much. The bacteria can grow on the walls of the piping going to the unit, the walls of the container, the top and bottom of the pad assembly, and the sides of the bags. If there are plants in the top, you will get some benefit from them. The problem is that this isn’t much surface area so not a lot of bacteria is growing.

Next let’s talk about downflow filters with pads. One manufacturer of some of the best is Patio Ponds, Ltd. They produce two very good ones with polyester pads and one with Matala pads. The Big Sister and Little Sister filters have been around for years. The Vista came on the market last year.

First let’s cover the Big and Little Sister filters’ design. These two filters are very similar with the differences being the size of the container and the material they are made of. They have two chambers. The first contains a spray bar that the water from the pond is pumped through. The water travels horizontally through this chamber, passing through a barrier of brushes. It enters the next chamber by going over a weir. The water then goes down through pads to the exit pipe and flows back to the pond.

First let’s review the good points of these filters. The water enters these filters by going through a spray bar. This adds oxygen to the water. As discussed earlier, bacteria needs lots of oxygen. The water passes through brushes removing most of the debris in the water plus providing a large surface area for bacteria to grow. Next the water flows into the second chamber, going through the pads to exit the filter. How, you might ask, is this different from the example of the waterfall filter?

In the downflow design the manufacturer is using the movement of the water to force it through the pads and not around them. As the pads get clogged up, the water pressure pushes the pads down against the bottom of the container. This seals the pads against the container and prevents water from going around them. This means that the bacteria are now using all the inner surface area of the pads. What happens if these pads get totally clogged up and water can’t get through? The design of the filter is such that the water goes through the pads to the open end of the exit pipe. The water then goes up this pipe and out of the filter. If the pads get clogged up, the water in the chamber rises to a point where the top of the exit pipe is located. Here the water is allowed to flow over the top and out of the filter. This also indicates when the filter should be cleaned. The bottom of each chamber is sloped to drains. Valves are mounted on these drains, allowing debris in each chamber to easily be drained from the filter by opening the valves. The spray bars regulate the flow rate of water going through the filter. So the minimum time the water takes to get through the filter is at least 5 minutes.

Now let’s talk about the down sides to these filters. There are two that I can think of. First, the larger of the two filters is good for a maximum pond size of 4500 gal. Second is that the water coming out of the filters has to flow back via gravity. Because of this the filter has to be above the pond level, meaning the rectangular box needs to be disguised or hidden.

We’ve talked about polyester pads being used in upflow and downflow filters. Next is a filter that uses polyester pads in a horizontal flow filter. Last year, Emperor Aquatics came out with the Hydro Max filter, using polyester pads in a horizontal design. Water from the pond is pumped through a spray nozzle. The filter is one chamber. Water passes horizontally through a row of brushes then through a series of pads, proceeding from coarser to finer. The pads are held vertically in the filter chamber by slots molded in the sides and bottom of the container. Similar to the downflow filter, as the pads get clogged up, they push tighter against the slots and seal to prevent water from flowing around them. If the pads get too clogged to let water through them, the chamber fills and the water goes over the top of the filter, flowing out a drain pipe back to the pond. The last part of the chamber is designed so one or two UV lights can be fitted into the filter. This filter can handle a 3000 gal pond.

The down sides to this filters are the same as those stated for the Patio Ponds filters. As these filters are new to the market, there may be problems once the pads become older (1 year or more). My thoughts are that once the pads are older and lose their stiffness, they may start bowing in the center, pulling the edges of the pads away for the slots, letting water go around them. If this is the case, the pads would need to be replaced before they are in actuality worn out.

It is apparent that depending upon the media used, different types of flow design can work well or may not work at all, as I have shown with the upflow with polyester pads versus downflow or horizontal flow with the same type of pads. This is true with most medias used in filters. Depending upon the type of media will determine which flow design works best. This doesn’t mean that another flow design won’t work but it may not work as well or may present other problems.

In the next issue I will continue to talk about filter types. We will cover filters such as bead filters, trickle town, vortex, fluidbed sand, bio reactors, and other types. This will probably take more than one article as there is so much material to cover.

©2004 all rights reserved to Mike White

THE INS AND OUTS OF KOI POND BUILDING by Mike White, White Water Filters Part 7: Biological Filters – Bead, Tower and Vortex Filters

Part 7: Biological Filters – Bead, Tower and Vortex Filters

In part 6, we discussed the biofalls type filters, Big and Little Sister filters and Hydro Max filters. These are all filters using polyester pads as media.

The next type of filters to be considered is the bead filter. Bead filters are pressurized vessels. The bacteria grow on little plastic beads.

Bead filters consist of a sealed container with piping inside, a multi-part valve capable of reversing the flow and filter media. They work by pumping water through the slurry of water and beads. Because the beads are constantly in motion and getting fresh water, they are capable of supporting large amounts of bacteria. The constant movement of the beads allows for only the strong bacteria to stay on the beads and grow. Because the beads and bacteria trap dirt, slime builds up on the beads caking them together and causing channeling. To clean this out, all bead filters have a method to reverse the flow of water to flush out the debris that has built up. This process is called backwashing the filter. Some bead filters use a mechanical device to help break the beads up so that less water is used to backwash. Most bead filters use an air blower to accomplish this. While air is very effective at doing this, another device used for this purpose is a paddle that is hooked up to a motor to stir the beads during the backwash.

Following are some of the problems associated with bead filters. These filters do clog up and require backwashing. As they get clogged up, the flow slows down and less and less water is filtered. The flow becomes torpid and the bacteria that convert nitrite to nitrate can not grow. The bead filters are not designed to be an effective mechanical filter, therefore some type of mechanical filter needs to be used in conjunction with them.

Bead filters do have good points. They can handle large fish loads in a small foot print. Because they are pressurized, they can be located away from the pond. Due to the fact you must back wash them, you are forced to do routine water changes which is good for your pond and fish.

The next type of filter is the trickle tower filter. A trickle tower can be a very effective filter. It is a column filled with media such as bio-balls. Water is then trickled in at the top and flows down through the media, out the bottom and back to the pond. This allows the bacteria to take oxygen directly from the air rather than the limited amount of oxygen from the water. For the trickle tower to work correctly, a rotating spray bar delivers water over all the media to reduce channeling. Because the water is exposed to the air in very thin layers, the water will give up a great deal of the gases that have dissolved in it.

At this time, I have not seen any trickle tower manufactured for garden ponds. Therefore, most that are being used are homemade or made for the aquaculture industry.

A potential problem is getting the pond water to go over all of the media randomly. Because ponds tend to have a lot of dirt and algae, most spray bar setups are prone to clogging. Then there becomes the problem of making the filter large enough and with enough flow for the average pond without having the filter stick out like a sore thumb. However, a trickle tower can be very effective at biological filtration, but is a poor mechanical filter.

Vortex filters are mechanical filters designed to remove debris that has been sucked up by the bottom drain. They work by swirling water slowly in a chamber. The debris in the water settles out to the bottom of the chamber. The chamber has a drain on the side so the debris can be removed. It is the purpose of the vortex settling chamber to remove the debris that settles to the bottom of the pond so that the bacteria do not have to break it down.

If used correctly, the vortex filter can work very well. Unfortunately, most people aren’t using them correctly. They try to put too much water through and the debris doesn’t settle out properly. Because the flow rate is rather slow, the bottom drain that is hooked up to the chamber can not suck debris that is not right next to the drain. In this case, it is important that the bottom of the pond and the plumbing be designed correctly. In addition, the number of drains for the size of the pond needs to be correct. And the flow rate needs to be correct. Once set up correctly, they will work well.

Some people will try to use an air dome bottom drain with vortex filters. The idea behind this is that the column of air going up from the bottom drain will create a current of water that will help bring debris to the drain. There are two schools of thought on this matter. One is that the current starts above the drain and debris is sucked up in this current and never gets to the bottom drain to be removed. The other is that it works properly. The truth is that both are correct. The lighter debris gets caught up in the current and doesn’t end up in the bottom drain. The heavier debris does get moved closer to the drain where it is sucked up. So the decision to use that type of bottom drain depends upon what you want to remove from the water.

In part 8 I will discuss fluidbed filters, bioreactors, Nexus and other filter types.

©2004 all rights reserved to Mike White

THE INS AND OUTS OF KOI POND BUILDING by Mike White, White Water Filters PART 8: Fluid Bed, Bio-Reactors and Nexus Filters

PART 8: Fluid Bed, Bio-Reactors and Nexus Filters

In the last two issues, I discussed the different types of filters on the market. This article will continue the filter discussion by covering fluid bed, bio-reactors and Nexus filters.

What is a fluid bed filter? It is a bed of media that is fluidized in water. The pond water is pumped in the bottom of the bed and flows out the top to the pond. Since the bed is in constant suspension and movement it can handle large amounts of ammonia with a small amount of media. Different types of sand are usually used for the media.

The trick with these filters is if the flow of water is too slow, the bed won’t be fluidized and if the flow is too strong, the bed will be too fluid and flow out the top of the filter and into the pond. The correct flow rate is fairly slow, therefore these filters are capable of doing an excellent job of handing both ammonia and nitrite. A small amount of media can handle a fairly heavy fish load.

A good example of this is a 75 gallon aquarium I have at my office. This aquarium has a small fluid bed filter on it with about 2 oz. of sand in it. I have kept as many as ten 6 to 8″ koi in this tank with no problems at all.

All this makes this sound like the ideal filter. So why don’t we see one on every pond?

The reason you don’t often see them on ponds is because they can be very temperamental. If anything starts to clog up the sand, the bed may collapse or if the water flow is turned off for even a short period of time, it might not fluidize the bed again. Once this happens it can be very hard to get it going again. Ponds by their very nature create a great deal of debris. Not only from the fish but also from the environment. If even a small amount of this debris gets into the fluid bed filter it can and will cause problems.

Returning to my earlier example of the fish tank in my office, the one thing I did not tell you is that there is a huge pre-filter before the pump to keep any debris out of the filter. Now you can see why these filters are not often seen on ponds.

A closely related filter is a bio-reactor. This is a vessel with a media that is called kaldness in it. At the bottom of this soup of water and kaldness lots of air is bubbled in to churn this mixture and to give the bacteria on the kaldness all the oxygen that it can use. Pond water is pumped in on one side and flows out the other side, returning back to the pond by gravity. Because of the action of the media and the oxygen, this filter is able to adjust to changing fish loads very quickly. It can handle larger fish loads very easily. Because kaldness, which is a plastic cylinder about ½” long and 3/8″ in diameter with a center cross piece, is a lot larger than sand it does not clog up like the fluid bed filter. The kaldness is held in suspension with the buoyancy of the plastic and the air bubbling and not as a result of water flow.

I use this type of filter on my large fish sale vats when there is a tremendous fish load. It is not at all unusual to have well over 100 fish that range from 6″ to 16″. We have not problem with ammonia or nitrite in 600 gallons of water.

What are the down sides of these filters? First, the flow rates through most of the bio-reactors is on the low side. Algae will tend to clog up the Kaldnes media and result in it no longer churning and losing its effectiveness. Because of this some type of pre-filter should be used. In addition, this type of filter has no mechanical filtering capability. This is strictly a biological filter which brings us to the next type of filter.

The Nexus take the principles of the bio-reactor and combines them with a mechanical filter. The inner chamber is a small vortex settling chamber. The filter comes with a strainer to filter any water leaving the inner chamber for the outer chamber. A unit called the “answer” is an optional replacement for the strainer. The Answer is a stainless steel screen that has a pump that sprays water through a rotating sprayer from the inside to attempt to make it “self-cleaning” unit. The next chamber that the water flows to is the outer chamber, filled with Kaldnes with air bubbling in it. From there it flows out of the filter.

This filter can be either gravity or pump fed. If it is gravity fed, it has to be set so the water level in the inner chamber is the same level as the pond water level.

I know this sounds like it has all the qualities of the perfect filter, but as I have said before there is no such thing as the perfect filter.

What is the problem with the Nexus filter? The major problem is the straining device between the inner and outer chambers. If the Nexus is pump fed and this strainer clogs up, the filter could overflow. Because of this possibility, it is essential to be sure that the strainer doesn’t clog. The way the unit is designed it is necessary to make sure that the strainer on the output side doesn’t clog up either.

In the next issue, I will conclude the filter discussion and then move on to ultra violet lights.

THE INS AND OUTS OF KOI POND BUILDING by Mike White, White Water Filters PART 9: Planning for Pond Expansion

PART 9: Planning for Pond Expansion

When is the best time to plan for the next new improvement to the pond? With most of us, our life is so busy that there is no good time to plan for what we want to do months down the road. We have enough trouble just planning for the next weekend. Most of us will wait until spring or summer is here and than start thinking of what we want to do for the pond. By this time we are so under the gun to get something done quickly that we really don’t think enough about it or investigate it well enough. So we either do nothing and put up with the problems we have, or do something and next year end up in the same position of trying to correct what we just did. So don’t forget the 6 p’s.

What are the 6 P’s? “Proper planning prevents piss poor performance”. To most of us our pond is a sizable investment that we gain considerable enjoyment and relaxation from. But I don’t think I have met a pond owner yet that did not want to change something on their pond or the pond itself. If it is going to get done right, now is the time to start planning for it. It is far easier and cheaper to change something on paper than when you start digging and find that electric line going to your house right in the middle of new pond expansion.

How do we get started planning? The first step is to put together a wish list of everything you would like to see changed. It could be a very simple like changing the look of the waterfall or as complex as changing the entire pond.

Next determine if you plan to do the work yourself or hire it to be done or a combination of both. Even if you are thinking of doing the work yourself it might be a good idea to get a quote or two from a professional. Many professionals don’t charge for a quote so other than a little bit of your time, you have nothing to lose. The person giving you the quote might have some ideas that you hadn’t thought of.

How do you find a reputable professional? You already belong to an organization that has a wealth of knowledge, so use it. Ask people that you know in the club and you should get some names of good professionals.

Now is the time to start to put together a budget for the project. Most of us have limited funds with which to work and we may not be able to do everything on the list this year. We might have to do things in stages. Like everything else in this world pond equipment is going up in price. In fact it is going up very quickly. Almost everything used in pond construction is an oil based product so the prices have skyrocketed. As an example, liner that is commonly used from last year at this time to now has gone up 12% at the wholesale market. Expect things to be more expensive than you anticipated.

Based on your budget, you now have a good idea of what part or if you can do the whole project at this time. If you are doing any part of the project by yourself you will need to lay out the steps necessary so the project can be done efficiently and with the least waste of time and expense. If you are doing part of the project yourself and the other part by a professional you will need to make sure that your part is done when necessary. By breaking down what needs to be done it will allow you to determine those steps that need to be done at the same time. It also will prevent you from doing something before a necessary previous step. With the project broken down into steps it will help prevent forgetting things and help you determine how much time the project will take.

Then you should put together a time line of all the different activities that will take place. Remember that things always take longer than you think. If you are going to use a professional for all or part of the project remember that they have their schedule and commitments that they have made. The earlier you get in touch with them the more likely that your time line and their schedule will line up. So when trying to find a professional one of the things to determine is how responsible is this professional. Are they going to do what they say they are going to do, when they say they will do it? Maybe your time table is flexible and if they are late by a few weeks that is no big deal or maybe you are planning a graduation party in the middle of June and the person you hire says they will be done the first of June. If the person you hire is reliable everything should be okay but if they are not then who knows. If you have enough to worry about already, you don’t need to add things to the list. This is also true if you are doing it yourself. If the project is going to take place over a week or more make sure that you leave time for weather and other things that may come up.

If you are doing part or the entire project by yourself then you will need a bill of materials or a list of things that you will need to complete the task. You already have a budget and a time line of when you will need things. This step is to insure that you have what you need on budget when you need it. Nothing is worse than to get to a point and find out that you don’t have something that you need and when you go to get it you find out it is on backorder for a week or more. That can be a very costly mistake in terms of the project. This is also true of any equipment that you may need to rent or acquire.

You should now have the project somewhat under control. Remember if you are doing the work yourself you have more control. If you have friends helping you make sure to line them up early. If you are going to have a professional do part or the entire job, then the earlier you get that scheduled the better. A professional can get booked up months in advance. Also remember that a professional is going to require money down at the start of the project. This is normally 1/3 to ½ of the total amount of the quote. Remember any changes requested that are not in the original quote will normally change the final bill.

©2006 all rights reserved to Mike White

Opening and Cleaning of Ponds By Bryan Bateman

Rock-Lined Ponds

  •   Equipment needed: good sump pump with hose, nets to catch and cover fish, fish-holding facility, pressure sprayer (optional), buckets, rubber gloves and boots, de-chlor, aeration.
  •  Procedure: remove fish (use pond water and air stone), empty pond, hose/ agitate rocks shallow to deep (thoroughly!), re-fill, de-chlor, replace fish (this is a good time to inspect your fish!)

    Filter Preparation

  •   If you’ve been running one all winter, it should be OK other than routine maintenance.
  •   Most filters are shut down. These need to be thoroughly cleaned prior to start-up. Avoid any contamination to pond from these filters while cleaning. Start filter as soon as possible.


  •   Do not feed until water is consistently above 50 degrees
  •   First meal should be liquid- fat — low protein (Kenzen). Soft food is best (soak in water) because their gut is very vulnerable to injury now.
  •   As soon as fish are eating and water is around 55 or warmer, feed grapefruit section twice per week for immune system.
  • Feed Sho-koi or similar immune stimulating food.
  • At 60 degrees, normal food is OK. Once per day until it hits 65 degrees.
    Watch ammonia and nitrite build-up carefully. Filter will take awhile to catch up.

    Fish Health

  •  You WILL have fish health problems in the Spring; no immunity + active pathogens = trouble in River City.
  •  Minimized by proper fall preparation and covering of pond.
  •  Don’t even consider treating for anything until pond is pristine clean.
  • Begin now by salting to .3%, or 3 lbs/100 gal in 3 increments. Leave in for 2 weeks, then gradually lower with water changes. (remove sensitive plants) This will eradicate most parasites, its cheap, safe, and doesn’t harm the filter.
    • Sales pitch: Potassium Permanganate (KMNO4), available from most hardware stores.
    • Has the most extensive ‘kill’ list of any treatment available
      • Is safe if used properly
      • Cautions:
        • Do not use below 60 degrees. It degrades cuticle layer (slime), which will not be replaced at low temps.
        • You MUST know your pond volume before using.
        • Do not allow contact with eyes.
        • Kills ALL bacteria, including beneficial, so be sure to bypass filter.
      •  Benefits:
        • Cleans up organic debris.
        • Kills bacteria, fungi, and parasites
        • Is easily neutralized with hydrogen peroxide.
        • Organisms cannot develop ‘resistant’ strains to this stuff.
        • It’s cheap, cheap, cheap

Potassium Permangante Regimen

  1. Establish your total pond volume. (Don’t even think about using unless you know this!)
  2. Shut down or by-pass filters; remove plants.
  3. Add plenty of aeration.
  4. Dose initially with 1 level teaspoon per 1200 US gallons. Dissolve in water and disperse over surface of pond. This will give you a 2 ppm concentration.
  5. Check the water color. It will be purple at first, but will quickly turn to pink. Using a white container, check color periodically. When it changes from light pink/champagne color to more of a tea color, go to step 6 (this should take from one to two hours).
  6. Dose with 1/4 teaspoon per 1200 gallons same as in (4) above. Check color periodically. It should change to tea color after another hour or so.
  7. All subsequent doses will be .5 ppm, or 1/4 teaspoon per 1200 gallons. These doses should be given each time the color changes from champagne to tea color. This will be roughly once per hour. (note: if the color is changing to tea or brown very quickly, you have too much organic debris in your pond. Discontinue treatment until your pond has been properly cleaned!).
  8. The total time for the treatment is 10 hours unless fish become obviously stressed (i.e. gasping for air, rolling over, etc.), in which case go straight to the next step.
  9. Neutralize with 1 qt. hydrogen peroxide per 4000 gallons. This will turn the pond clear within seconds. Turn your filter back on and replace all plants.
  10. Repeat the entire procedure after five days.

COLD WATER CARE OF KOI By Bryan Bateman, AKCA Koi Health Advisor

It is important to understand the effects of water temperature on the ecology of a pond and the physiology of Koi. The purpose of this article is to explain the changes that occur during the cold winter months, and what we can do to minimize the negative effects of these changes.

By now (late November/early December), the temperatures of non-heated ponds in the Chicago area will most likely be in the mid-40s. Let’s first look at what has happened to this point.

When temperatures dropped below 60 degrees F, the Koi’s immune system had already begun to slow down (at 65 deg F, the immune system operates at about 50% efficiency; at 60 degrees it has dropped to about 20% efficiency).
Bacteria, both good and bad, are both still very active. The fish still have healthy appetites, and the filter is operating at near 100% efficiency. Aeromonas bacteria is also quite happy at this temperature, and this is why we are entering what has been called “Aeromonas Alley”.

At 50 degrees, the koi’s immune system is operating at only about 10% efficiency, while aeromonas is still at about 60%.
Some of the warm water parasites have begun to slow down, but the cold-water parasites such as Costia and Chilodinella, are quite content, and can pose a threat to our now low-immune protected koi. Feeding should be almost nil at this point, although the filter is still capable of converting ammonia to nitrites and nitrites to nitrates, so these toxins should not be a problem.

The next magic number is 45 deg F.
This represents the low end of Aeromonas Alley because most bacteria have slowed to less than 20% effectiveness. The koi, because they are cold-water creatures (poikelotherms), have begun to enter a state of torpor, and are most likely no longer interested in food. They will be inactive most of the time, spending their days swimming slowly at the bottom, where the water is warmest (more on this later).

At 40 degrees, which is very nearly the coldest temperature a koi can survive in, the filter has ceased to function.
Bacteria, both pathogenic and beneficial, are at or near zero percent effectiveness, as is the koi’s immune system. In short, everything, both ecologically and physiologically, has pretty much shut down.

Cold Water and Ammonia

It is important to understand the effect that cold water has on ammonia.
As many of us already know, ammonia becomes less toxic at lower pH levels. What many of us don’t realize, however, is that it also becomes less toxic at lower temperatures. Mother Nature is being considerate here, because, as was explained above, our filters are no longer capable of converting ammonia below about 45 degrees, but our koi will continue to release ammonia thru their gills all winter long, even though they are not eating. Ammonia levels could become lethal under these conditions if this were not the case!

What about nitrites?
Nature is again on our side here. Below about 50 deg F, the koi’s metabolism has slowed, and along with it respiration, and thus decreased opportunity to take up nitrites from the water. Once the filter stops functioning, nitrites will no longer be produced, but until that time, nitrites could still build to dangerous levels if we continue to feed. Again, more good news. Nitrite uptake is easily inhibited by adding salt at a level of only .1%, or about 1 pound per 100 gallons of water.

HOWEVER . . . (sheepish grin here) . . salt in very cold water could mean trouble for our koi!
Fresh water reaches its maximum density at 39 deg F, so at this temperature, it sinks to the bottom. This is why our koi will go to the bottom during the winter, and also why we don’t want to mix our pond water during the winter. If we add salt to water, however, the temperature at which it reaches its maximum density is lowered. Salinity levels much over .1% will lower this maximum density to the range of 35 deg F, which could be lethal to a koi. This fact needs to be considered when adding salt to neutralize the effects of nitrite (this is where water changes come in!!)

Cold Water Pathogens

Most parasites are warm-water creatures, and become dormant or die off when the water drops into the low fifties. Notable exceptions to this are Costia (or ichthyobodo) and Chilodinella. These two parasites can be deadly at temperatures as low as 40 degrees.
The good news here is that these parasites are easily eliminated with salt at .3% concentration (about 3 lbs per 100 gallons), or if you are experienced in the use of Potassium Permanganate, a 2 ppm treatment will do the same. A salt or “PP” treatment would be a good idea at about 60 degrees as the water is dropping in the fall, to kill of these parasites. The same should be repeated in the Spring as the water approaches 60 degrees.

Now about this Aeromonas Alley thing.
We know that it ranges from 60 degrees to 45 degrees F. We know that the reason it exists is that our koi have a lowered immune system while the aeromonas (as well as other bacterial pathogens) are still active in this temperature range. The fact is, this is the single most dangerous time for koi-health related problems.

A number of steps can be taken to reduce the risk of bacterial infection.

Since pathogenic bacteria thrive in high organic environments, we should make every attempt to lower these organic levels by keeping filters clean and minimizing the feeding of our koi in these temperature ranges.

A therapeutic potassium permanganate treatment of 2 ppm, as mentioned above for parasite control, will also greatly reduce the aeromonas population as well as reduce the organic load through oxidation.

Finally, there is a product on the market called Lymnozyme, or Koizyme, which has revolutionized aeromonas control. This product is an enzyme that out competes aeromonas for its nutrient supply, and effectively reduces their numbers to manageable levels when used according to directions. I strongly recommend the use of this product in the Fall and again in the Spring.

Testing and Water Quality

Ponders will all too often ignore water testing during the winter months. This is a big mistake! As stated above, koi will continue to release ammonia even after feeding has stopped. Once the filters have stopped functioning, nitrites will not be a problem, but ammonia should be monitored regularly, and controlled thru water changes as needed. In the Spring, it is a good idea to check for nitrites, as the appearance of rising levels indicate that the filter is starting up.

Another very important test is Carbonate Hardness, or KH. Our ponds are still very much alive during the winter months if the water is over 40 degrees F. This means that fish respiration, nitrification, and photosynthesis are all producing CO2, which is neutralized by the carbonates in the water. If the carbonates become exhausted, the CO2, which forms carbonic acid in the water, will cause a pH crash. Many fish deaths have been caused by this phenomena. For short term control, baking soda can be used to raise pH and replenish the carbonate levels. For long term control, oyster shells or crushed coral can be placed somewhere in the pond where water will flow past it, such as over an air stone or near a pump return. A KH reading of 90 or above should be maintained for adequate buffering. As a back-up test, pH should be checked frequently. If it shows a trend downwards, this in an indication of insufficient carbonate.

Finally, and most importantly, WATER CHANGES. This is the best way to control any and all contaminants in our ponds. We will leave a garden hose on drizzle all through the winter, thus avoiding a freeze up in the hose. This also eliminates the need to add a dechlorinator, but if there is any question about chlorine (some parts of the country use very high levels of chlorine or chloramines in the water), sodium thiosulphate should be added at about one tablespoon per 1000 gallons of water added.

With the information provided in this article, you will hopefully have the knowledge to keep your koi healthy and happy throughout the coming winter months. In the next issue, we will discuss bringing our koi and ponds through the Spring warmup season.

(Authors note: much of the factual information in this article is from a Koi Health Advisor Continuing Education course written by Richard Carlson)

all rights reserved to the authors

Showa, the Embodiment of Power by Bob Brudd

Reprinted with permission from Water Gardening Magazine


Traditional Showa – The original style showas were predominantly red and black fish with
only 20 – 30% white coloring.

Kindai Showa – In the 1970’s, the tastes of the showa buying public shifted towards a koi with
more white ground showing.

Motoguro (moe – toe – gurrr – oh) Concentrations of black coloring at the base of a showa’s
pectoral fins.

Menware (Men – wahr – ray) Lightning-like sumi pattern on the head.

Hachiware (Hah – chee – wahr – ray) Another word describing lightning-like sumi on the head.

Aizumi (Aye – zoo – mee) Ai describes the blue that we refer to as indigo. When combined with
another word, the “s” in sumi is replaced by a “z” sound.

It is only fitting that of all the gosanke, or “big three,” we save the showa for last since it was the last of the three major varieties to be developed. Formally known as the showa sanshoku, this black, red and white koi serves as the representative for the Showa Era of Japanese history which spanned the years 1927 to 1989. This sixty year period also witnessed the growth of koi keeping from an esoteric hobby isolated in the mountains of Niigata to the national passion that rapidly evolved during the bubble economy of the 80’s. It was during this same period that the desire to keep koi spread to Europe, the United States and other countries in Asia.

The first showa was created in 1927 by when a breeder named Hoshino crossed a ki utsuri, which is a yellow fish with black bandings, and a kohaku. Because of the influence of the yellow coloring, neither the reds or the whites of these early showa were very attractive. Another problem was that the sumi inherited from the ki utsuri line had a tendency to be somewhat dull and lackluster. Finally, in the early 1960’s, Tomiji Kobayashi crossed his showas with a kohaku bloodline that had a strong red. The resulting “Kobayashi showa” line was a big improvement, but size and body shape were still a problem.

Other breeders continued to improve the variety which culminated in the creation of the most famous showa of all: the inazuma (lightning pattern) showa. This incredible koi was bred by the famous breeder, Minoru Mano, founder of the Dainichi Koi Farm. The inazuma showa represented a huge improvement in body conformation and overall color quality, and it was used as a brood fish until it died a few years ago.

So what makes a showa a showa? And what do you look for when purchasing one for your collection? The first question is easy to answer; however, the second is much more difficult. Starting with the easy part, it’s best to think of a showa as a black based fish with red and white markings. Unlike the sanke, which has smallish sumi markings, a showa has large blocks of black coloring that often wrap the body below the lateral line.

A showa should also have black on the face (preferably the nose), and in an ideal world, all three colors should be present in this area. In a really, really, really ideal world, the arrangement of the three colors on the face is mirrored in reverse at the other end of the koi. Ergo, if the tip of the face is white, followed by red and then black, then the rear portion of the fish’s body should be black, followed by red and finally white.

Breeders of showa try very hard to create koi that have a sumi mark on the head that resembles a diagonal band of lightning. This trait is referred to as hachiware or menware, and this characteristic helps give a showa its imposing appearance. Another trait that adds to this image of power is motoguro, the presence of black at the base of each pectoral fin. It is preferable that these black markings not go as far as the edge of the fins and that they be surrounded by white on all three sides. A good quality showa, particularly one that represents the more traditional school, should invoke thoughts of a powerful middle line backer in full pads and helmet. Think Dick Butkus with pads.

One of the challenges to buying a good showa is that it can take many years for complete development of the sumi to take place. For this reason, serious hobbyists will only buy a showa when it’s at least three years old; however, this also makes the fish more expensive. Even then it can take additional years for the sumi of a showa to evolve and mature. This can either be fascinating or frustrating, depending on your patience, your pocketbook and your point of view. On the other hand, if you don’t have deep pockets and you just want to have fun, you should be able to buy an interesting one year old showa “with prospects” for a reasonable fee of $75 to $150 and up.

Assuming that it’s an imported koi, the odds are that it will be a male, but it’s possible that you might get lucky and end up with a female. Remember that female koi grow up to have better body conformation than males, which have a tendency to be thin. Also keep in mind that many, many attempts have been made to improve the genetics of showa in order to make them bigger and fuller with better quality black, whiter whites and redder reds. This sometimes results in showas with weak genetics and imperfections that end up in your koi vendor’s vat. Watch out for a head that is pointed or too small for the fish’s body. Look extra carefully if the head has a lot of sumi because black can hide flaws. Check the pectoral fins and make sure that they are both the same size and proportional to the body – sometimes, the pectorals can be too small or even deformed.

One last deficiency that can occur in showas is a divot or depression in the body of the fish right behind the head plate. These depressions can occasionally be found on one or both sides of the koi and they can be made harder to see if there’s black on the shoulder. As every fashion conscious dresser knows, black can hide a multitude of problems. To check for this flaw, look at the fish from the side and position yourself directly over the head/shoulder. Next, as you focus on the shoulder farthest away from you, lower your head closer to the koi while moving away from it at the same time. This allows you to observe the shoulder from different angles and in different light as your head moves. If the head plate transitions into the body at each shoulder without any dips or depressions, then the problem doesn’t exist in your koi.

Finally, as with any patterned fish, balance is important. Since we look at the head and shoulders of a fish first, we can easily ignore the back half of a koi, particularly since it’s smaller and narrower. To remedy this tendency, try an old trick. When the koi is facing you, hold one hand in front of you and cover up the back half of the fish. Then, do the reverse and cover up the front half. Check the balance and distribution of colors and pattern. If the sumi isn’t too pronounced, check to see if the fish has a good kohaku pattern. Odds are that in many cases, your fish won’t balance out.

Many beautiful front heavy fish get culled in Japan and sent to foreign markets because of this imbalance. Why? Because even though the fish may be of excellent quality, they will become more unbalanced looking as they get older and bigger. Whereas this is detrimental for a competition-level koi, it may be of no consequence to the casual backyard ponder or water gardener. Again, it’s all about learning, regardless of what niche of ponding you fall into.

Watching your showa develope and change is one of the most fascinating aspects of keeping koi. Enjoy!

©2004 all rights reserved to Bob Brudd and Water Gardening Magazine

Sanke, Elegance Personified by Bob Brudd

Reprinted with permission from Water Gardening Magazine


Tsubo sumi (tsoo-boh soo-mee) – Sumi that is strategically placed.

Nabe sumi (nah-bay soo-mee) – Sumi that is of poor quality. Instead of being shiny or glossy
it appears to have a flat, dull appearance.

Kasane sumi (kuh-sah-nay soo-mee) – Sumi that rests on top of a part of the fish that is red (hi).

Ato sumi (ah-toh soo-mee) Sumi that is still developing.

Urushi sumi (oo-roo-shee soo-mee) Sumi with the high gloss of wet India ink or lacquer. This is the most
desirable type of sumi for a sanke to have.

Kata sumi (kah-tah soo-mee) Sumi marking that falls on the shoulder of the fish.

Tejima (teh-jee-muh) – Black stripes in the pectoral fins found in older style sankes.

Aka sanke (ah-kah sahn-keh) – A sanke that has a lot of red as part of the kohaku pattern.

Keito (kai-toe) Bloodline

Insertion – On a fish having red patterning, an insertion is an area of white that “inserts” itself
in such a way as to create a pleasing aesthetic appearance. The shoulder area is one
such desirable location for an insertion.

If, as the Japanese say, koi keeping begins with kohaku and ends with kohaku, then elegance in koi begins and ends with sanke. Formally, sanke are known as taisho sanshoku, a reference to the Taisho Era (1912-1926) in which they were developed. The first sanke to be exhibited was shown in 1915. The breeder credited with being the first to stabilize the variety and to produce an actual keito (bloodline) was named Kawakami but is better known by his company name, Torazo.

Perhaps the easiest way to think of a sanke is to imagine taking a good quality kohaku with a well balanced pattern and overlaying a Dalmatian’s spots onto the body of the fish. As you attempt to envision this, keep in mind that various Dalmatians have differing types of spot patterns: some have quite large ones, some have smallish ones, some have many and some have relatively few. The same can be true of the sumi patterning on sanke koifish.

Another of the early sanke keitos was developed by a breeder referred to as Jinbei. Although his sanke were known for having relatively few sumi markings, they were often quite large and striking in appearance. Although this bloodline no longer exists in its original pure form, sanke with the “Jinbei look” can still be seen thanks to other breeders who long ago incorporated Jinbei fish into their own brood stock.

The man who is credited with having the greatest impact on sanke appearance in recent history is Toshio Sakai, born in Niigata Prefecture, but currently based in Isawa, Japan. His father originated the famous Niigata koi farm known as Matsunosuke (Maht-suh-noh-skeh). When the father died, the farm was passed on to the oldest son as is the tradition in Japan. Toshio decided to strike off on his own and start his own breeding facility. As he struggled to succeed, he noted that while many of his competitors were trying to breed bigger koi, progress was slow and the results mixed.

I’ve been fortunate to meet Mr. Sakai, and according to a story told over dinner one night, he and his foreman, Mr. Igarashi, went to Lake Biwa, which is near Kyoto, and line caught a huge magoi, or native carp. They kept it alive and brought it home to Isawa where they used it to breed with their sanke brood fish. Native carp grow to be quite large in Japan, and Sakai hoped to breed size into his baby fish. After the first attempt, only one of the fry survived, but the following year was successful. The best of those that made it were kept for koi-to-koi breeding. Eventually, Matsunosuke sankes came to dominate the market. The beni on them tended to be persimmon (orangish) in nature and the sumi patterning to somewhat resemble freckles. The typical body shape back then was very much like that of a torpedo. As Sakai continued to improve his bloodline, however, the beni took on a deeper red and the sumi became more pronounced. The bodies of his sanke are now much fuller as well. Today, virtually every breeder in Japan who produces sankes utilizes Sakai’s bloodline.

Finally, Sakai’s crowning achievement came in 2002 when one of his sankes won the All Japan Show, an annual competition involving 4000+ koi. It’s equivalent to the world series of koi where many breeders compete to be number one, but only one can win. For years there had been a rumor floating around the All Japan that the first breeder to produce a one meter gosanke (kohaku, sanke or showa) winner would himself win the equivalent of one million dollars. Sakai’s sanke measured one meter + one centimeter. History had been made, but unfortunately for Sakai the rumor was just a rumor.

So, what do we look for and what do we need to know before selecting a sanke for our collection?
Easy, easy question, difficult answer.

First of all, as with any fish, you want to make sure that all of its body parts are there and in good shape. That means no torn fins or broken leading rays, either in the pectorals or dorsal.

Next, you want to look for a koi that has a pleasant and well balanced kohaku pattern. Check to see if the red is consistent in hue. The red on the head plate will probably be darker than the red on the body, and in a young fish that’s fine. As it ages, however, the red on the body should reach and achieve the same depth of color as that on the head. Keep in mind that many of the fish that get sent here for export are front heavy when it comes to red but light in the back. It’s easy to miss this imbalance because we all tend to look at the head and shoulders of a koi first and not pay so much attention to the rear third. This is a habit that is best broken.

Finally, make sure that the white is nice and bright.

In the older blood lines, sanke were bred to have striping in their pectoral fins. Referred to as tejima, this trait isn’t nearly as common today. If you choose to purchase a fish possessing this trait, however, it’s best to pick a fish that has it in both pectorals as opposed to one. Also, in an ideal world, the striping should not extend all the way to the edge of the pectoral. It’s considered more desirable for them to be buffered by a white boundary. Most sankes today have pure white pectorals and it’s best that no other color, such as red, be present.

Now comes the hard part – sumi placement and quality. Sumi is a very tricky thing, and it’s made more complicated by the fact that it isn’t as stable as red and white. What this means is that the sumi that you see on an 8″ fish may be totally different on a 20″ fish when it grows up. Also, on a young fish, you don’t want all of the sumi to “be up,” that is to say deep inky black in color. A young fish should have some ato sumi showing underneath the white skin. This sumi will come up, or develop, as the fish ages.

Hopefully, all three colors will peak at the same time somewhere in the fish’s development. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible for us to predict, which means that your sanke may peak when it’s two or when it ten years of age.

The placement of the sumi is of great importance as well. In an ideal world, the kohaku pattern of your sanke would have a white insertion on the koi’s shoulder, and in that insertion would be a nicely sized and proportioned urushi sumi mark.

It is considered important that a sanke have a distinctive sumi mark on the shoulder. If there’s no white insertion, then this will be a kasane sumi. In both cases, this shoulder placement is described as tsubo (strategically placed) sumi.

Hopefully there are no sumi markings on the head, but if there are, there’s a good chance that they’ll fade away as the fish matures. It’s important not to give up on a sanke – they can take years and years to reach their full potential.

The rest of the sumi on the fish should be balanced in their placement. Some say that a stepping stone pattern is best and it’s hard to argue against that point of view.

Finally, the amount and size of the sumi markings varies from fish to fish with some having many and others having relatively few. Ultimately it becomes a matter of personal taste and preference, but no matter what kind of sanke style you finally choose, adding this variety of koi to your collection introduces a level of elegance to any pond.
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©2004 all rights reserved to Bob Brudd and Water Gardening Magazine

Kohaku, the Cornerstone of Koi by Bob Brudd

Reprinted with permission from Water Gardening Magazine

If you could magically jump onto an airplane bound for Japan and attend a koi show, the majority of the fish entered would be kohaku. If you could then go and visit the ponds of some serious hobbyists, the majority of the fish in their collections would be kohaku.

There are other sought after fish with more elaborate color combinations, red white and black for instance, that are more complex or elaborate, yet the kohaku remains the favorite of both breeders and collectors alike. Dr. Kuroki, the founder of organized koi, suggested that the majority of fish in anyone’s collection should be kohaku. Is this because kohaku are red and white like the flag of Japan? Maybe. It’s more likely, however, that in their apparent simplicity kohaku embody that aspect of the Zen-aesthetic that is found in so many things Japanese. To put it another way, less is often more.

Essentially, a kohaku is a white fish with red blocks of color dispersed on various parts of the body. Whenever a koi has randomly placed chunks of color on its body, we refer to the fish as having a “pattern,” and each of the color groupings is referred to as a “step.” In Japanese, the word for pattern is moyo, and there are several different possibilities.

A kohaku having one large, continuous red pattern is said to have ippon hi, and if that singular pattern is lightning shaped the fish is then described as having an inazuma pattern. If you remember our counting terms from the last issue, the rest is easy. A nidan kohaku is one with two steps of color, a sandan has three, a yondan has four, and a godan has five. I’ve never seen kohaku with six or seven steps, so it is most likely that they are culled out before sale.

Of all the possibilities, serious koi collectors prefer kohaku with sandan and yondan patterns. However, what should the rest of us be looking for when we purchase kohaku? Before attempting to answer this question, I’d like to suggest that you buy your fish with the mind set of a student. Yes, you want to enjoy the fish in your pond, but you should also study them so as to learn and to become a smarter consumer.

First of all, fish are very much like people: some are long, others short; some have great figures, others don’t; some have great skin, others don’t. Then there are those rare individuals who have all the right components in all the right places at just the right time. For example, some actors peak when they are children. A few manage to maintain their looks and careers into adulthood.

So it is with koi. Some are beautiful only when they’re small, others only when they reach mid-life, and then there are the rare ones that achieve and maintain both beauty and quality well into their later years. Again, it’s simplistic, but this helps explain why some kohakus go for only $50 while others can cost as much as $50,000. Let’s see if we can break this all down by parts.

BODY: The body shape of a koi is determined primarily by gender; however, when they are still under two years of age, it can be difficult if not impossible for a non-breeder to determine the sex of a koi. Usually, though, the odds are high that fish selected for sale at this point in the growth cycle will be male. Why? Males have more intense coloring when they’re young and are therefore more attractive. Males usually grow up to be thinner than females, which is not desirable in a fish that the owner hopes to eventually enter into competition. For a pond fish, it makes no difference whatsoever. Remember that most koi come from Japan where the typical consumer is looking for s show-worthy fish; ergo, it makes sense to sell off young males early on. Female koi usually grow longer in length than males and have much more voluptuous bodies. In human terms, we’re not looking for a Barbie doll figure – the ideal koi will have a shape reminiscent of women at the turn of the century. Remember, thin hasn’t always been in.

COLOR & SKIN: If you live near a paint store, go and get as many color swatches for red and white as you can. If you have an art supply store near by as well, consider buying a color wheel or book on color theory. This is one of those areas where the study of kohaku seems simple (it’s just a red and white fish, right?) but can be truly complex.

Let’s start with white. Dr. Kuroki, the man who literally wrote the book on koi appreciation, said that the white of a kohaku should be “snow white.” But what if you don’t live in an area where there’s snow? What if, like me, you live in a big city where the snow is mixed with soot, etc.? How white is snow? If you talk to artists about white, they’ll differentiate between a hard white, which probably has a slight touch of blue in it, and a soft white, which probably has just a little touch of yellow added. One of my teachers, Ron Goforth, suggests looking for a white that matches whole milk. Now there’s something we can all relate to. The quality of a kohaku’s white is extremely important because it is the canvas upon which the red moyo are placed. Imagine a Picasso line drawing done on dirty or cheap yellowy paper. Yuch!

Next comes red, another color that at first seems simple. Imagine being able to get a sample of every kind of red sports car available and lining them up. What are the odds that all of the reds will be the same? None that would entice me to place a bet – that’s for sure! So look at your color samples or your color wheel. Find pure red and then put those that have blue added to the right and those that have varying degrees of yellow added to the left.

As you go to the left, you’ll eventually encounter a tone of red referred to as persimmon. Persimmon is the color of red that the Japanese aesthetic deems beautiful, appealing and desirable. Also be aware that persimmon colored hi or beni will deepen in intensity as the fish ages. This all works out to result in a fish that is peaking when it is older and bigger – not younger and smaller. Bluish red, also referred to as a “hard” red, is less desirable and often ends up being exported. This is not to say that these fish can’t be beautiful. They can and often are quite lovely, and they do appeal to a western aesthetic/appreciation for this kind of red. If you decide to compete in koi shows, however, persimmon is the shade of red to look for.

Finally, we want to consider the koi’s “skin” quality. Think of a child’s skin. Next, think of a middle-aged person’s skin. Finally, think of an old person’s skin. The tissue that we see growing both on a fish’s scales and surrounding them is referred to as its “skin,” and its overall condition plays a great factor in determining its overall beauty. Ideally, the skin of our chosen kohaku should have a noticeable sheen or shine to it. Also referred to as luster, the Japanese call this characteristic tsuya. If you study the skin of a child or young person, you’ll notice that it seems to glow and to do so without the need of cosmetics or creams. This type of youthful glow is what we want to see on the skin of our koi as well.

PATTERN: In selecting kohaku, it is easy to be tempted by the one that has what appears to be the prettiest pattern; however, here’s where patience, study and knowledge can help you win out.

For starters, look for balance. Hold out your hand and use it to cover up your view of the front half of the fish so that you can study the rear portion. Then do the opposite. Are the front and rear balanced? Quite often this not the case. Many of the fish coming to America are front heavy, meaning that the moyo closest to the head is large, but those to the rear are disproportionately smaller.

Also check to see that the red patterning wraps around the sides of the koi, preferably to the lateral line that runs horizontally down the middle of each koi’s side from gill plate to tail. As a kohaku grows, the white area will outpace the red ones, and as the back broadens, a too small red pattern will come to look weak.

Finally, the ideal kohaku will have a small white area between the last red pattern and the tail fin. Known as an odome, this “tail stop” mimics the white nose at the koi’s other end. The key to pattern is to look for one that has overall balance and harmony.

Each of the red moyo should possess uniform sashi and nice crisp kiwa. When forward edge red scales are inserted underneath white scales, the translucency of the white scales will create the illusion of a pink leading edge. This pink edge, or sashi, should be uniform in width and depth. Also, if the first step of the pattern has sashi, so should all the others, so pay special attention to the last pattern. As a fish matures, this pink edge will disappear and result in a crisp edge. When looking at the side and rear edges of each pattern, we want to see clean, sharp edges, a quality referred to as kiwa.

It is important that a kohaku have red on the head, but not too much. In an ideal world, the red on the head will have the rounded shape of a shoehorn (known as a kutsubera pattern) that rests just above, but not passing too far beyond the eyes. If possible, try to avoid red that covers one or both eyes and definitely avoid red that covers the entire face, a condition known as menkaburi.

A white nose and mouth is considered to be extremely important although it’s acceptable to have a little bit of red on the lips or a red dot on the nose.

Try to avoid fish that have random red scales or clusters that are too small to be considered a pattern. The former are called tobi hi and the latter, niban hi, and they are each detractions from the koi’s overall beauty. Another anomaly to avoid is what’s called a shimi, or “volunteer sumi.” These black freckles, which can be as large as an individual scale, often appear in hard water conditions. For some unknown reason, kohaku are far more prone to shimis than any of the other varieties.

CONCLUSIONS: My late wife, Millie, used to say that one can never own too many pairs of shoes. As the more intense koi keeper of the family, I’ve come to feel the same way about kohaku. It’s gotten to the point where my friends in the local koi community tease me about it. Studying and learning to appreciate kohaku is a great way to avoid future mistakes with the purchase of their more expensive cousins, the sanke and showa. These varieties also share kohaku qualities but with the sometimes confusing addition of black patternings as well. As we’ll learn in the next two issues of Water Gardening, good sankes and good showas start with good kohaku patterns.


Moyo (moy-oh) – pattern
Ippon hi (ee-pohn hee) – describes a kohaku with one large, continuous red pattern
Inazuma (ee-nah-zoo-mah) – ippon hi in the shape of a lightning bolt.
Nidan (nee-dahn) – having a pattern with two steps/moyo
Sandan (sahn-dahn) – having a pattern with three steps/moyo
Yondan (yohn-dahn) – having a pattern with four steps/moyo
Godan (go-dahn) – having a pattern with five steps/moyo
Kutsubera (kuht-soo-behr-ah) – a shoehorn shaped red pattern on the head
Sashi (sah-shee) – found on the leading edge of a step, sashi describes the pinkish color that occurs
when white scales overlap red ones.
Kiwa (kee-wah) – describes the sharpness and clarity of a step’s trailing edge.
Odome – (oh-doh-may) the white space occurring between the last red step and the beginning of the tail fin
Tobi hi (toh-bee hee) – Random bits of red, usually one or two scales in size, on the white area. Undesirable.
Niban hi (nee-bahn hee) – Small groupings of red scales that aren’t large enough to be considered
blocks of pattern. Undesirable.
Menkaburi (men-kah-boo-ree) – The term translates as mask and refers to gosanke having hi that totally covers the head and face of the fish.
Shimi(s) (shee-mee) – Specks of black that sometimes appear on kohaku. Undesirable.
Tsuya (tsoo-yah) – Describes the sheen or luster seen on good quality koi skin.

©2004 all rights reserved to Bob Brudd and Water Gardening Magazine

The Language of Koi by Bob Brudd

Reprinted with permission from Water Gardening Magazine

I know that I’m dating myself here, but when I was back in the first grade, our teacher taught us the basics of reading using a series of primers that told the simple saga of Dick, Jane and a dog named Spot. Many years later when I was taking education courses I learned that the purpose of every primer is to introduce young learners to the Dolch 220 basic sight words. It is essential that these words be learned by rote, not only because they make up a sizable percentage of all print matter, but because they serve as the building blocks that enable us to decipher the rest of the printed word.

The same can be said about the language of koi, namely that it is essential to learn some basic vocabulary words and concepts before moving on to more advanced terminology.

The lingua franca of koi is Japanese in origin, and although that in itself would seem to be intimidating, it really doesn’t have to be. Luckily, the phonetics of Japanese is relatively simple and repeatable. If you ever studied Spanish in school, you know that the each of the vowels has only one pronunciation. Therefore, with a few minutes of practice, anyone can do a passable job of reading Spanish aloud in an understandable manner. You may not understand anything you’re saying, but the point is that it sounds pretty much like Spanish.

Japanese is very much this way as well, so with a little work on your part, you too can sound like a koi veteran in no time. If you decide to get serious about learning these terms, make yourself some flash cards with the words you’re trying to learn on one side and definitions on the other. It works for me.

Pronunciation Guide

In Japanese, our letter “i” is pronounced “ee”
In Japanese, our letter “a” is pronounced “ah”
In Japanese, our letter “e” is pronounced “eh” as in Ed
In Japanese, our letter “u” is pronounced “oo” as in cool or book
In Japanese, our letter “o” is pronounced “oh”

General Fish Terms

It is important to be able to count to five in Japanese when learning to talk the talk of koi. An amazing number of terms utilize these five words so it will be useful to commit them to memory.

Ichi (ee-chee) – One. A breeder often refers to his best fish as “ichiban,” which means number one.

Ni (nee) – Two. A two year old koi is called a nisai (nee-sigh). A one year old, by the way, is called
a tosai (toe-sigh). I don’t know why it isn’t an ichisai.

San (sahn) – Three. Yep, a sansai is a three year old fish.

Yon (yohn) – Four. Yes, yonsai refers to a four year old.

Go (go) – Five. You can figure this one out all by yourself.


When you consider that wild Japanese carp were either dark brown or deep blue, the multi-colored varieties of koifish that we all enjoy today represent a miracle of genetic mutation and remarkable breeding skills.

Shiro (sheer – oh) – This is the Japanese word for white, and because it acts as the canvas for so many varieties of koi, it is impossible to overstate its importance. When you buy koi that
has shiroji (white ground), the quality of the white sets the standard for all the other
colors, especially reds and blacks. The very best koi have a quality comparable to
to the color of milk.

Hi (hee) – This is a general term for red and probably the most commonly used.

Aka (ah – kah) – Another general term for red.

Beni (beh – knee) – This is a term that not only denotes red, but infers good quality. Toshio Sakai, a great modern breeder, tells students of koi that to identify good beni, one should look at the
red of a fish in the same way you’d look at a paint job on a custom car. The more
coats of paint, the more depth. More depth equates to better beni.

Sumi (soo – mee) – This is the Japanese word for ink. Keep in mind that for thousands of years the people of Asia have ground their own ink and mixed it with water for the purpose of writing
or creating sumi-e (ink paintings). When you buy fish with sumi, you want the black
to have great depth and gloss similar to that of a pool of ink. When combined with
another word, e.g. katazumi, the initial consonant “s” often changes to a “z.”

Ki (kee) – Yellow, as in kigoi.

Midori (mee – dohr – ee) – Green.

Ai (aye) – Indigo blue. This is a blue that is exceptionally dark. There is one type of sumi, for example, that is referred to as ai-zumi because it has a bluish quality to it.

Sora (soh – ruh) – Sky. A soragoi is a koi with a bluish gray color.

Body Parts

As you read various books and magazines about koi, you’ll encounter terms that describe varying aspects of a fish’s body parts.

Kuchi (koo – chee)- Lips. The term kuchibeni, for example, refers to a fish with red lips or “lipstick.”

Te (the) – In Japanese, this word means hand, as in karate. On a koi it refers to the fish’s pectoral fins, which are used in a hand-like manner for fine maneuvering.

Hana (hah – nah) – Nose. Hanabeni or hanazumi describes a red or black marking, often dot shaped, found on the tip of a koi’s nose.

Men (men) – Face. When we eventually get to an article about the showa variety of koi, we’ll spend more time discussing this feature of a koi’s anatomy.

Kata (kah – tah)Shoulder. When buying koi of the sanke variety, it’s important to look for katazumi, which is a black marking on the shoulder of the fish. The shoulder is the area directly behind the head and above the pectorals (te).

Ozutsu (oh – zoot -sue) Tail tube. As you look at a mature koi from front to rear you’ll notice that the fish is widest at the shoulder. As you move your eye towards the rear, the fish tapers down and narrows until it reaches the tail fin itself. In good quality fish it is important that the last few inches of the fish’s body, the ozutsu, be thick and well developed because it reflects strength and power.

Our next three articles will deal with kohaku, showa and sanke. In Japan this group of koi is referred to as gosanke, which means “big three.” Between now and then, I hope that you study your new vocabulary terms so that we can continue to build on them and become ever more fluent in the language of koi.

©2004 all rights reserved to Bob Brudd and Water Gardening Magazine