Snag ’em, Bag ’em and Drag ’em

Even if you don’t regularly participate in the competitive end of our hobby (Judged Koi Shows) it is worthwhile getting the hang of transporting your koi in the safest and least stressful manner. I do mean stress, both on your koi and you as well.

Your own stress levels are judged best by you and your loved ones, but they will not be reduced by elusive and edgy fish, soggy pants and fish sick on arrival. Koi are primitive as metabolisms go, and being “cold-blooded”, have only so much energy to expend on basic needs, such as breathing, osmotic balance and resistance to disease. Any stress (noise, vibration, sudden environmental changes, etc.) will alarm the fish, activating its flight response and expending energy they would normally use for routine maintenance. Transporting your fish can include practically all of the harmful stressors to which it is susceptible. Minimizing them will increase the likelihood that you’ll deliver your livestock to its destination in a condition that will allow it to recover and thrive.

Preparation for the move is key, and should start well before the move. Feeding should stop five days before the event. While this will certainly earn you the “stink-eye” from your fish, the reduction in the amount of ammonia they’ll have to deal with in the bags will result in a healthier and less stressed crittur at the end of the trip. Make sure you have your gear, including bags, nets, rubber bands and boxes laid out before you begin. You do not want to deal with a cranky fish in a net while trying to find the bags or the rubber bands that have inexplicably gone walkabout.


The Snag

Extracting a koi from a pond is a task with a huge number of variables, based roughly on the design and depth of the pond, the number and size of the fish and the size and skill of you and your helpers. Larger koi are less likely to panic, move more slowly than smaller fish and are much more visible in the pond. This makes them much easier to catch. Smaller fish have “Evade” hard-wired into their tiny brains, and are fast, elusive and likely to jump. They are experts at wedging themselves into spaces too small for your net and are often hard to see, especially if your water has been clouded up in your attempts to capture them. For this reason, your larger fish should be your first targets if you are moving several fish. You want them out of the way in your holding area while you and your crew are fresh. The pursuit of the tiny will take up a lot of time and effort, and you may quit in frustration, leaving them in the pond to mock you forever (or until they get too big to hide!).


You will need the following equipment:

  • A generous holding area, if the fish are being isolated or held while the pond is cleaned
  • Many fish transport bags. These are large, heavy-duty plastic bags designed for fish transport. They are 3 to 4 mils thick and very strong, but not impervious. (If you need some, look in the Aquatic Eco-Systems catalogue, page 209 or, search on “transport bags”.) Always “double-bag”. Plastic is not reliable, seams give, pinholes magically appear and the fish arrives in a bag bereft of water, oxygen or both, mostly dead. Double bagging limits the risk and contains the potential damage.
  • Oxygen, especially if the fish are traveling a long way, or will be in the bags for longer than an hour or two. Air will do for short trips.
  • Big, sturdy boxes. These can hold one or more bags o’ fish. They can be heavy cardboard at one end of the cost spectrum, or be plastic with wheels and handles at the other. They should all have lids or covers.
  • Rubber bands. Big, thick ones.
  • Old towels, newspaper, foam rubber, whatever.
  • Cold packs, especially for summer transport.
  • Nets with long, rigid handles, big screens with small mesh.
  • Lots of help. Preferably not tanked up on caffeine before the event.
  • Seine net. If your pond is large, you’ll need to limit the area available for your fish to hide. Lure your fish to their usual feeding area and block off the area with the seine. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll help.
  • A “blue bowl” or other smooth-sided basin large enough to briefly hold your largest fish.


Right. The goal here is to gently chivvy a fish into a bag with the minimum of alarm and stress, get the bag out of the pond, treat it with oxygen and get it into a box as smoothly as possible, with the absolute minimum of splashing, shrieking, swearing and actual direct contact. Station your netters at opposite sides of the pond, select your target, and gently ease your nets into the water. One of your crew should have the bags and maybe a sock net handy. Slowly guide your target fish towards the person with the bags and contain the fish at the surface without actually lifting it out of the water. The best thing to do here is have the transport bags (doubled, right?) partially filled with pond water and ready to slide the fish into. This does mean getting wet, but if all movements are slow and deliberate, it works well, especially with the larger fish.

catching-a-carp_thumThe smaller the fish, the harder it gets. The trick here is to anticipate its movements and block them with one of the nets. Little koi are great jumpers and capable of fantastic turns of speed. Do not try to keep up with their movements from behind. Even edge-on, water resistance will slow your net movement enough to make the exercise futile. Do not try to catch a fish with sudden net movements (hence the “no caffeine” instruction). Small koi register that as “attack” and take off. Do not give in to the temptation to get in there with them and wrassle them into submission. They are much better designed for the aquatic environment than you are, and it will only give them another opportunity to mock you forever. (See illustration, which depicts the ultimately unsuccessful and embarrassing attempt of past MPKS president Yoshinogo Wakazashi to capture and transport his prize Cha-Goi “Old Honker” to the Third Annual MPKS Koi Show. The rest of the club is up in his living room on the bluff above the pond, watching the debacle, getting drunk, and laughing themselves sick.)




If direct placement into the bag isn’t practical or doable, chivvying the fish into a sock net, then into a bag may work better.

The Bag

Once the fish is in the bag, adjust the amount of water to just cover its dorsal fin and allow it to float off the bottom. Expel as much of the air as you can and fill the bag with oxygen. This can be obtained from industrial gas supply companies or welding supply houses. If you do not have oxygen, hold the top of the bag as wide open as you can, then close the neck of the bag rapidly, trapping as much air as you can in the top of the bag. Twist the bag shut and secure it with two strong rubber bands, secured first at the bottom of the twist with a slip loop, then doubling over the twist and wrapping the free end of the loop around the doubled, twisted bag neck.  Rubber-band each bag INDIVIDUALLY! All fish should be “double bagged” and all bags should be carefully checked for leaks both before and after loading. This is a great time to carefully inspect your fish for dings, dents, ulcers and other signs of disease and trauma. Some fish will bleed from the gills when transported. This is a sign of stress, and usually is not harmful. Replace as much of the fouled water in the bag as you can with fresh pond water, and then seal the bag.

Larger fish should be packed one to a bag. Small fish will cohabit more easily. The greater the fish density in a bag, the greater the stress and the more likely it is that your fish will suffer injury.

Move the koi into a storage box as soon as you can, padding the bottom with towels, newspaper or foam rubber. Cover the bag with more newspaper or towels and then close the box. If the weather is warm or if the koi will be in the box for a prolonged time, a coolant pack under the bottom towel will help keep the water cool and lessen stress on the fish.


The Drag

Once in the box, it’s time to load. Regardless of the vehicle, koi should be loaded perpendicular to the direction of travel. Sudden starts or stops with the fish aligned parallel to the direction of travel can ram a fish’s nose or tail into the ends of the box, injuring it. Secure the boxes so they do not tip or shift.


Drive nice.

On arrival, the fish should be floated in their bags for a few minutes to allow water temperatures to equalize. You will want to move the fish out of the bags and into their destination area as quickly as possible. Do this with a minimum of water mixing. If you can lift the fish out of the bag with your hands (rings and watches off, please!) or a sock net, this is preferable. Do not allow water from the destination area to mix with the water in the bag, especially if the fish has been in the bag for a prolonged time. Even a fasted fish produces ammonia, and stressed fish produce more. The water in the bag will become contaminated with the fish waste, but the fish will be protected by the gradual decrease in pH caused by the ammonia and other fish waste. The relatively acidic conditions in the bag will ionize the ammonia to less toxic ammonium ion, and the fish is able to tolerate this. Mixing destination water with the contents of the bag corrects the pH upward (alkaline), de-ionizing the ammonium to often lethal levels of ammonia, and your fish dies right in front of you. Not a good outcome.

Discard the bagged water immediately.

You’re there! You’re done!


Note for Koi Show exhibitors: Every one of our shows is run on the English system. You are assigned a vat and only your fish will be in it. There is NO mixing of fish, and every effort is made to prevent cross-contamination. To this end, we request that you provide your own “blue bowl” (Aquatic Eco-Systems catalogue, page 209 or online, search “Koi Show Bowls) and net. Barring disastrous screw-ups, your fish should be fine to be reintroduced into your pond immediately on arriving home. If you have any doubts about this, please isolate them for at least three weeks in warm water, feeding sparingly before reintroduction. If you buy a fish from a vendor at the Trade Show and enter it in the Koi Show, your fish will be placed in a show vat with other fish from that vendor only. It is our strongest recommendation that these fish be isolated as outlined elsewhere on our site. (See links to KHV and SVC)


Respectfully Submitted,

Bob Passovoy




Posted 4/26/2016