Koi Hobby – Bringing your koi inside for winter

Michelle and her Koi were the popular destination on the 2nd Pond & Garden Tour in Waterloo Region in September. She shares her backyard with 28 stunning Japanese Koi, many almost three feet in size and so gentle and friendly, swimming right over for a loving stroke under their chins. They all have really cool names too, like the two matching butterfly koi, Catherine and Heathcliff.

Michelle and her koi

Michelle’s love of ponds began back when she was just a girl. It was kept on hold until she was a grown up living in her own home. About 10 years ago she finally gave in to her passion by stocking a pond with a few goldfish and garden koi. She immediately felt the addictive nature of this hobby – haven’t we all? Before long she was ordering koi from Japan and explaining the ‘live’ mail order packages to her husband, Joe. He indulged her hobby and together they dug and built a magnificent pond and waterfall.

Fast forward seven years; Michelle has a residential collection of Japanese Koi that is the envy of Waterloo Region. Her darlings include Showa, Sanke, Ohan Hiwake, and Kohaku.

Of course, any hobbyist knows that pond keeping is fraught with dangers, from herons and racoons or minks feeding on your family members to our harsh Canadian winters followed by ever higher spring kills. Michelle decided to over winter her koi in the basement where they’d be safe and sound and under her watchful eye.

I had the pleasure of joining in the annual fall pond closing when the koi are moved from the pond to the basement. More technical info follows later on, but let’s get right to the journey and how she does it.

empty pond

fish in bottom

Michelle had the indoor tank built four years ago.  “It was designed by a professional engineer for strength with welded steel legs both in the floor and against the wall and corners. The indoor pond contains approximately 40,000 lbs of water! The pond was constructed by one of my regular contractors Ken Ertel Ltd. with all of the materials supplied by myself.”

indoor tank The first thing Michelle had to do was get the indoor water prepped and ready for the fish to move. The filtration system with its existing beneficial bacteria is critical for water quality. The set up and take down of the filters takes several hours each time.

filtration boxes

“I use two 150 W UV bulbs attached to 2 OASE bio tech screenmatic filters.  My whole set up is made by OASE, not cheap but worth every penny in my estimation.  They work really well as they can be moved from outside to inside easily. I have been running this filtration system since 2008 with much success. I can maintain optimal water quality even with my large fish load!”

water in tank

Catching fish is no easy task at any time of year. It’s a bi-annual adventure that Michelle shares with her best friend Trish. Michelle drastically lowers the pond water so she has easy access to her koi. Correction, as the photos show, access isn’t easy at all, as she’s stepping down into a very slippery pond. However, the water is quite cold, so the fish are less likely to jump. Still, I was a bundle of nerves watching on the sidelines.

step one

step two (2)

step three

step three b

step four

step five

step six

step seven

in tank

Michelle lets the koi float in the indoor tank while she catches some more fish outside. The water temperature inside is still relatively cool, around 10 degrees versus 6 degrees outside, so there’s no massive shock to their systems. When she brings in the next bag, she sets the first fish free in the tank, and so on. It’s like they know their winter home.

free in tank At this point Michelle has to lower the pond water quite a bit, as the fish are sinking to the bottom of the seven foot depth. There’s only one small slippery shelf to stand on, so she relents and just gets into the very cold water, feeling around in the murky water with her hands for the koi.

fish in hands With 28 koi you can imagine the trips back and forth and up and down from the pond to the basement. Michelle’s husband Joe is very helpful, even though this isn’t his hobby (he keeps saying).

helpful husband

tank filling up w fish The weather doesn’t hold, of course. Cold rain mixed with snowflakes will not wait until this job is done. Joe is making sure the fish are accounted for while Michelle goes right into the bottom of the pond to scoop up the last hold outs.

michelle in bottom

holding fishJust think. The first or second week in June, this entire process is reversed. Bestie Trish always brings a change of clothes for after her hot shower and they relax knowing they’re good to go for another year. Michelle even had shirts made for them.

brains and brawnMichelle has been perfecting this over the past four or so years. “The filter setup has gotten better over the years and the cleaning and maintenance of the systems both inside and out has been streamlined to fit in my busy life while still working incredibly well. I have been fortunate that I have not had any fish losses due to disease in more than 4 years now.”

From start to finish, this amazing project took just two hours. Really. Oh, I forgot to mention that there is a lone goldfish in her collection.  Her husband named it ‘Lucky’.

Following is my Q & A with Michelle on how she maintains the indoor tank.  

Water quality?

Test as required, use salt regularly and 10% water changes each week! Period! Works really well and keeps the fish growing!

Set up?

Next year I will improve the filter hose set up and switch to bango fittings from the worm drive clamps I am currently using.

Water changes?

The filters have a back wash system that aids in cleaning and draining the pond. In the indoor pond the back wash valves are connected to 2” lines that are hooked up to a floor drain in the basement.

hose in basement floor

Filter cleanings?

Simple scrunging and back washing, about 5 min work every week. That’s it. 

Do you feed the fish over the winter?

Yes, the water temperature in the basement is approx. 21 degrees and they get fed every two days.

No WONDER her koi are the healthy gorgeous fish that they are in just seven years.  Sigh.

girls thumbs up




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