selecting good koi

As fascinating as all the aspects are, Koi appreciation is the essence of the hobby. If koi weren't so unique, beautiful and and develop like they do, much of the allure of the hobby would be lost

We have some interesting videos to watch taken from the a Koi USA Seminars which show great examples of koi development and we share some koi purchasing tips here
Beginner Mistakes at our Shop
What I find often with clients is that they see a beautiful show winning koi at its peak, then try to shrink that image down to a 6 inch, inexpensive fish. They fail to understand that a Koi's colours develop and hopefully improve over time, sometimes drastically, and with some varieties this change is appreciable. Also remember, it takes the same effort and pond space to raise a poor fish as opposed to a good fish, so investing in 1 better fish instead of 2-3 less desirable specimens is a better approach

koi head structure

These fish are both Sandan Kohaku in the 12-14" size range. We brought in this 2 fish in 2009. Body shape, colour and pattern aside, the heads of these two fish are dramatically different. The koi on the left has as much more aesthetically pleasing shape and is in the proper proportions

The kohaku on the right has a pointed head with very little volume and shape beyond the eyes. This makes the value of these fish quite a bit different, head structure aside, the head plate is much nicer on Koi #1

In terms of balance, the width of the head at the back end of the gill plate should equal the length of the head from the nose to the aforementioned rear of the gill plate

koi Purchasing Tips

Understanding how Koi develop helps you to appraise young fish you are looking to purchase. Here are some basic guidelines. Remember, the axiom should be quality over quantity

Do you like the Fish?

This is the number one priority. Forget about whether it will win a show or not, do you want to add this fish to your collection? You should be really excited about buying a fish

Body Shape [Conformation]

Is the body shape full? The fish should be powerful looking and in balance - head, body, tail tube, fins. Obviously females have a fuller body shape and are therefore more expensive. More information on body shape below

Balance of Colour

Often a fish will have a really attractive pattern at 8 inches in size. However, if it is a young sanke for example, with no beni behind the dorsal fin, what looks good today can look horribly unbalanced when the fish is 18" in size.

Base White [Shiroji]
White is a colour that may not improve as well as other colours. There are general exceptions -shiro utsuri, showa can clean up nicely and certain fish from certain breeders will dramatically improve their whites. On a small kohaku, I like to see an even and clean white, in particular note the head shiroji compared to that on the body

Black [Sumi]

If the sumi is very rich and dark on a younger fish, this is not necessarily desirable. This type of black can sometimes overpower the fish and fade later in life. Look for some underlying sumi coming through on smaller fish, some nice inky black showing is a great sign. Black should be considered a colour that will expand and their are different types of sumi ie. showa vs. sanke as well as different sumi bloodlines that show different traits

  • A off white colour is common on small shiro, and so are yellow heads
  • Older shiro show better shiroji [white] and deeper sumi
  • This tail tube is a bit thin. The sumi will finish from the rear to the front of the fish

Red [Beni or Hi]

Many people seem to want incredible beni on small fish. What is much better is consistent, soft orange with no windows. Look for a diamond of darker red in the middle of the scales. This is more likely to develop into a deeper, longer lasting red. A fish that is red while under 10 inches is likely male and may finish early and not hold onto its peak for as long a time. Beni also tends to shrink so a balanced tancho or maruten spot on a 10 inch koi will probably not be balanced at 20 inches

Full tancho spots have been known to disappear - take a look at the video clip on the Outings - A.K.C.A. Seminar page, the San Jose clip as a tancho sanke turns into a beautiful bekko


It's easy to be critical of any koi, even top specimens have their faults. Remember, when a fish wins a championship, it is usually at its peak. The bottom line is, sometimes there does not appear to be a whole lot separating two fish, but in fact the difference is substantial. A koi may only 10% better than another but that 10% can account for a huge premium in cost - perhaps double

Soft thick beni, stronger sheen and textbook confirmation are impossible to attain at low cost. With koi you hope to get what you pay for but a lot of the cost may be based on potential

Beware Koi Photographs !

Judging koi by photos of course gives you some insight into the quality of the fish. But important things like deportment and sheen are impossible to gauge. A side view of the body can also help greatly in determing quality [sumi wrap, peduncle colour development, body quality] and that perspective is never available in dealers pictures. Of course image colour reproduction / settings may not reflect the true shade of the beni nor its thickness. Bottom line, do not spend a lot of money on a fish based on a photograph only

Koi Body Shape

Many novices do not appraise fish in the proper order of criteria. Instead of judging conformation [body shape] first, it is sometimes not even considered. It's often all about the colour and the pattern. To put it in human terms, fish should be well muscled and proportionate like an athlete or bodybuilder, not scrawny like an underweight teenager

Keys to look for are a fullness through the shoulders and the tail tube. It should be streamlined with no indents. Particularly note the back end of the abdomen - a pinch here is not going away. Koi should be proportional with the head size and fins. Good bone structure and the distance between the dorsal fin and caudal fin provide keys as to the potential size of a fish

Sometimes it takes seeing a top notch koi in person to really see what a great body will do for a fish. Its hard to describe. After that, skinny fish just do not look nice. Body shape, skin quality, luster and prowess are all facets of appreciation that require one to observe on a deeper level and it takes time. If possible, one has to see hi-grade koi up close and study them at length. Seeing the differences between multiple fish first hand is the best way to grow your appreciation skill set

  • Small black shimi's are appearing on the shiro of this nice sanke
  • This nisai kohaku is losing colour. It is key to look from strong red in the back and below the lateral line. It is hard to see the scales on the higher quality foreground kohaku

purchasing points to ponder
Larger fish are more expensive than their 4 inch brethren because they ship fewer to a box and they have survived several culls in Japan - meaning these fish command a certain price to justify the investment. Another huge point is that you can not develop big and beautiful koi in a 12 foot pond with no bottom drain while feeding discount koi food. To reach their potential, koi need impeccable water quality, good nutrition, deep water and lots of current, not to mention aeration and a 8+ month growing season

Decide What your After
When selecting a fish there are several viewpoints to take. Which is the best fish now ? Which will be the best fish for the future ? Which fish do you like the best ? Male or Female ? Age ? When you answer these questions, you may have 3 different fish selected. Knowledge and understanding of what you are seeing is the key to selecting the best fish for you

If you purchase a 6 inch tosai, grow it to a healthy and colourful 2 feet in about 4 years, you have arrived in this hobby. Good Luck!
You should now be able to pick the best fish out of this group.....  Just kidding of course, it is best to compare fish only 2 at a time