Pond owners love koi. They’re colorful, smart, hardy and super low-maintenance.
But koi aren’t the only fish you can house in your backyard oasis.Lots of other finned friends can live in the comfort of your pond, either alongside the koi or in place of them. Some are great for ponds that are maybe a little too small for koi, while others just bring some variety to your aquatic life.
Here are just a few of the possibilities:
At a Glance: Fish You Can Add to Your Backyard Pond
Let’s start with the standard.
Koi flash their bright scales in water gardens throughout the world, appearing with such regularity that the terms “backyard pond” and “koi pond” are all but synonymous.
Koi are known for their eye-catching colors, which include black, white, orange, yellow, red and anything in between. These fish can have long lifespans – sometimes 20 to 30 years in ideal conditions – and usually survive cold temperatures in properly winterized ponds. They’re also the perfect size for most backyard ponds, with most domestic koi maxing out around 12 to 15 inches in length, and tend to get along well with other fish.
On top of all that, koi are among the smarter pond fish. They often learn to recognize their owners and swim up to take treats from their hands.
These traits all make koi a great choice for most pond owners. So why wouldn’t you want one – or more- in your pond?
- Price: Koi are to fish what a pedigreed Schnauzer is to dogs. Koi farmers have spent decades selectively breeding their fish to produce perfect color combinations, and they reflect all these years of labor in their prices. Small koi are still affordable for most pond owners – our smallest ones at Splash cost less than $15 each – but prices can skyrocket depending on the size and color of the fish. Our most expensive fish at Splash cost $350 each. The most expensive koi ever sold cost the buyer $1.8 million.
- Pond Size: Koi are a little on the large side when it comes to pond fish, and that means they need a little extra room to swim and stretch their fins. The rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water per inch of fish in your pond. You’ll usually know, though, if your fish are crowded if your filtration can no longer keep up with the amount of waste they’re producing.
Koi vs. Goldfish
Some varieties of goldfish look an awful lot like koi. So how do you tell them apart?
Koi have barbs protruding from their lips that help them rummage for food along the bottom of a pond, while goldfish do not. Koi’s bodies are tapered at each end, whereas goldfish have rounded bodies with blunt noses. Koi are also usually – but not always – bigger, and display a wider variety of colors.
Butterfly koi are not technically koi according to strict Japanese definitions of the word, but rather a cross between long-finned Indonesian carp and regular koi (which are also in the carp family). For the casual koi keeper, though, they are koi in all the ways that count: size, longevity, behavior, coloring, diet and general appearance.
Where butterfly koi differ from regular koi are their fins. Unlike regular koi, which have genes that tell their fins to stop growing at a certain point, butterfly koi fins keep getting longer throughout their lifetimes. The result is the long, flowing fins that some pond owners love. Butterfly koi’s bodies also tend to be slightly more slender than traditional koi’s, and their barbels – the whisker-type growths on their faces – grow slightly longer.
Goldfish rival koi when it comes to popularity in the backyard pond. They’re hardy, inexpensive and maybe a little less intimidating than other types of fish for the novice pond keeper.
You’re probably already pretty familiar with these well-loved fish. Maybe you won one in a carnival as a kid, or maybe your own children kept a couple as low-maintenance pets. You might not realize, however, just how many types of goldfish you have to choose from when it comes to stocking your backyard pond.
Goldfish come in all kinds of colors besides traditional gold, from bright red to white to even black or pale blue. They seldom grow longer than 8 inches in length, making them a great choice for small ponds. Most varieties tolerate a range of water conditions and can live 5 to 10 years under the right conditions.
Here are a few of the most common types you’ll see in backyard ponds:
Many of the goldfish you’ll find in backyard ponds are some variety or descendant of comet. Comets look similar to common goldfish, except they have deeply forked tails and slender bodies. They also tend to come in a wider range of colors than traditional goldfish.
Sarasas are a type of comet goldfish. The have mostly white bodies with bright red highlights that make them stand out beautifully in a dark pond. Their coloring has led some pond keepers to dub them the “poor man’s koi.”
Shubunkins have maybe the most unusual coloring of any goldfish. Their bodies display large patches of white, pale blue and bright orange scales covered by smaller black freckles. Shubunkins are also known as calico goldfish.
Does a goldfish with a bulbous body and goofy swimming habit sound cute to you? If so, you might want to consider adding some fancy goldfish to your pond.
Fancy goldfish – also known as exotic goldfish – include varieties like black moors, orandas and ranchus. While different types of fancy goldfish vary in appearance and color, they’re all characterized by rounder-than-average bodies and unusual heads (orandas and ranchus have fleshy growths on their noggins, while black moors have bulging eyes).
Breeders created these fancy varieties with aesthetics – not function – as their No. 1 priority. Their unusual bodies make them slow swimmers compared to most of their pondmates, and they tend not to overwinter well outdoors. If you decide to add one of these exotic breeds to your pond, you might want to consider bringing them inside when the mercury drops.
If you haven’t heard of golden orfes, you’re missing out. These fish have an attractive orange sheen, interesting schooling habits and a tendency to grow pretty big pretty quickly.
Golden orfes are torpedo-shaped fish with luminescent pale orange or pink coloring. They love to school with other orfes – which is why we recommend always buying them in groups – and often swim close to the water’s surface, making them a delight to watch. They’re also voracious eaters of insects, get along well with other pond fish and are usually winter-hardy. What more could you ask for?
Golden orfes grow quickly, often reaching a foot in length by their first birthdays. They usually max out around 2 feet in length and can live up to 20 years under the right conditions.
Golden orfes’ size, and their preference to hang out in schools, makes a large pond a must for any would-be orfe keeper. If you have the space for a few of these guys, though, you won’t regret adding them to your pond family.
Catfish have lots of things going for them. They’re hardy, fun to look at and grow quickly
They won’t, however, clean much muck out of your pond.
Lots of novice pond keepers buy catfish with the mistaken belief that these scavengers will help them rid algae and other muck from their ponds. While catfish are omnivores, and will eat some plant matter, they really won’t do much to clean your pond (Only good filtration and maintenance will do that).
That being said, catfish are neat fish in the appropriate environment. We sell catfish in two colors: blue and albino. Both kinds grow like crazy, quickly dwarfing many koi and other fish in the pond. They’re very hardy, typically get along well with other fish and can live up to 20 years.
Catfish don’t have scales, so they can be more sensitive than their pondmates to certain medications used to treat sick fish. Ask your pond expert for exact dosage advice.
2020 Shark Update: The Hi Fin Banded Sharks are very popular. Because of environmental changes – and possibly over harvesting – the wild population has rapidly declined.
We are hopeful that responsible breeders will soon be able to make these species available again.
You can’t add a Great White to your pond, but you can have another kind of shark,
The Chinese high-fin (or hi fin) banded shark, Myxocyprinus asiaticus, belongs to the Catostomidae family. It’s also called lots of other names, including Chinese sailfin sucker fish.
These “sharks” have little in common with true sharks other than their high dorsal fin. They’re actually docile, koi-friendly algae eaters – better algae eaters than koi are – and can eventually reach a length of more than 2 feet.
These sharks are as winter hardy as koi and other pond fish. To keep them happy and healthy in cold weather, we recommend a 36-inch deep pond with an aerator that disturbs the water’s surface. This disturbance keeps a hole in the ice that allows gases to escape.
High-fin banded sharks look exactly how you might expect based on their name: They have high dorsal fins and banded coloring along their bodies. Both the large fin and the banded coloring, however, tend to become less prominent as the fish mature.
These “sharks” are native to China’s Yangtze River. If you decide to add this unique fish to your backyard pond, prepare to spend a little bit of money. High-fin banded sharks usually cost around $99 a piece, and they prefer to swim in schools, so we always recommend buying more than one.
These are some of the most popular fish for backyard pond keepers, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. Don’t hesitate to stop by our store if you ever have any questions about caring for your pond life.