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How to choose a koi for your collection

Outside Japan, people tend to use the word "Koi" for these beautiful ornamental fish. "Koi" is actually the Japanese word for common carp that are found in the rivers and lakes. "Nishikigoi" however, is the Japanese word for “Brocaded Carp”, the special breed of carp, which we all admire today.

Throughout the years, the breed has been improved and is divided into many categories, while more new varieties are created every year. This article is intended as broad guidelines on selecting a suitable koi for your pond, regardless of the variety.

Just remember, there is normally not a “set in concrete” price for koi. Actually it has been said that a koi has very little value until there is a willing buyer. The seller and the buyer therefore decide on a price depending upon the knowledge of both. The price also varies according to the size, quality, and condition of the fish. A dealer however may have a limit and may not drop below a certain price.

Many times, an expensive koi will change in the course of its growth and become a worthless one. Likewise, an inexpensive koi could change into a champion (unlikely, but it could). The knowledge of dealers and Koi keepers determine the future of the fish. The pond environment can change the condition of the koi, for better or for worse. An expensive and beautiful fish can lose its colour in six months because of a poorly conditioned pond. In a pond with a good system and feeding regime, the colour will deepen and become beautiful

Quality levels for koi
There are various levels of koi, and dealers try to grade them for ease of determining prices per display pond. I will not attempt to describe the Japanese grading (from A right through to SSSSSS) because it is fairly confusing and no dealers in South Africa grade it that way. Further more, some dealers sell koi by size, making a worthless big fish fairly expensive. For the average koi keeper it will be sufficient to distinguish between three types of quality that can be considered for your pond.

Pond Quality
Pond quality koi can be purchased at local pet shops and breeders. Mostly this type of koi is bred locally with a mixed bloodline. Often it is not known who did the breeding and most are not suitable for competition. However, they are very inexpensive to buy and enjoyable in the pond. Most hobbyists have purchased one of these fish at one time or the other and are content with such a fish in their pond. Pond quality is mostly koi that lacks refinement. The most common traits that will be noticeable in pond quality fish are poor skin quality, uneven colouration, unbalanced patterns, fading pattern edges and scattered colour plates.

Ornamental Quality
Ornamental koi are not bad quality. They may have been bred from good quality parents, have good bloodlines, good conformation, and beautiful colour. The real difference between ornamental and show quality koi, lies in the pattern. In most show quality koi, in addition to the very important body conformation, is the Jihada (texture of the skin), Kiwa (edge of pattern) and evenness of colour. Most ornamental types have an unbalanced pattern with many faults, but they are very beautiful and can be bought inexpensively.

Show Quality
There are many requirements to be considered when selecting show quality Koi. They should have:

  • Good body conformation.
  • Good shiny skin.
  • Sharp pattern edge (Kiwa).
  • Evenness of colour in the pattern.
  • Overall well balanced patterns.


The experts consider bloodline to be an extremely important element and will advise you that most show quality koi are bred from parents with a good bloodline.

When one considers the many problems that face the breeders, wholesalers and dealers, the dedicated hard work spread out over several years plus the costs involved it is understandable why Show quality Koi are expensive.

Each Koi has different possibilities, size, and quality. Mostly these are genetic factors, but koi keepers can destroy a genetically superior fish with questionable koi keeping skills. Also, through good koi keeping skills, certain good characteristics can be enhanced, but not to a point where it will make a mediocre koi a show winner. Some koi, which achieves its best condition while still small, will not usually, maintain this quality as it grows. On the other hand, if a large, mature Koi becomes “finished” and in top condition it will normally keep the same condition for a long time, unless as stated, placed in a bad environment

As a koi keeper, you need to decide what level of koi quality you are looking for. It can either be pond quality, ornamental quality, or show quality. Show quality can be very expensive. However if you are not interested in Koi competitions, you do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy beautiful fish. Do not expect to get show quality pattern with pond type of fish. If you are thinking about competing in a Koi show, you must consider an entirely different selection process. All show quality Nishikigoi are not expensive, but most are.

First determine the amount of money you would like to spend. Many Koi keepers do not want to spend much, but want the very best and this is almost impossible. With a well-maintained pond and a good filter system, it is possible you could improve and polish a good quality Koi. Normally, small Koi are less expensive than large ones but, sometimes, “finished” small Koi are more expensive than “unfinished” large Koi. Some knowledge regarding potential is required when buying small Koi because they will change drastically during a six-month period.  

The best way to learn about changes that occur in young fish is to buy young fish and observe, observe and observe. Observe how pattern and colours change with body growth. If the size of the red pattern does not keep up with the growth of the body then the body will diminish it. Another way is to visit and talk to people who are knowledgeable. You can complement the above by taking pictures when you purchase your Koi, and then every few months.


Chris Neaves compiled a handy Pondside Identification Chart to recocnised all the varieties. Click here to see it.


Last Updated on Thursday, 05 November 2015 20:58