Dan Merrill's koi poind has a camera in it so he can watch his fish from his home television.

Hooked on koi

People hook fish, right? But with koi, it's the opposite. Koi hook people, and they do it with their amazing beauty, individualized personalities and an intelligence that seems to say they are conscious, thinking beings like us.

That's what the koi lovers will tell you at the seven stops on the Siskiyou Koi & Pond Club Tour, Saturday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tour at each stop will feature educational exhibits on how to raise koi.

"Koi are smart, friendly, and they change with beautiful colors as they grow," says Kristine Merrill of Medford, whose ponds — a true koi pond and a "water garden" pond for goldfish — will be on the tour.

As an example of the awareness, emotional capacity and intelligence of koi, says her husband, Dan Merrill, the creatures will gather round in a circle if one of their kind falls to the bottom and lies on its side. They will keep nudging it with their noses, and when it no longer reacts, they will remove themselves to the most distant part of the pond.

Before she got into koi, Kristine thought, well, fish aren't warm, fuzzy and responsive like dogs and cats. But, she confesses, "When you get your own, you see they have individual personalities. They suck on your fingers. It lowers your blood pressure to watch them. You fall in love with them."

Adds Dan, with a note of pride, "They are called 'living jewels' in Japan, where they originated."

So rapt are the Merrills with their new koi pond that they put a webcam on the bottom of it — and then sit in their living room watching the sleek creatures move by on TV.

The koi club thrives because so many people get entranced with them at a shop, buy a few, dig a pond, put them in and think all they have to do is feed them, the couple report. Then reality sets in.

"They sell because people don't know there's a lot involved, and you wouldn't buy them if you heard about it. They wait till you fall in love with them," says Kristine, "and you have to come back for information."

For instance, koi owners have to test the water every week for pH, ammonia, nitrites and other things, says Dan. And they have to know how the fishes' diet changes with the seasons — high protein in summer, wheat-germ food in spring and fall and virtually nothing in winter when they're barely active.

Koi love a lot of the foods we do, including fruits and veggies, especially melon, broccoli and peas. They fancy Cheerios, too.

And, above all, new koi people have to realize there's a huge difference between a koi pond and a water garden, the latter being basically a shallow, poorly filtered pool filled with rocks and plants which is kind of like a snack bar for raccoons and herons, a place where they can drop in and have dinner.

With koi, no plants because they clog filters and collect filth. No rocks, because koi get playful in mating season and will injure themselves on them. And you need vertical 4-foot sides so raccoons and herons can't get footing as they try to dine.

The other kind of pond — the water garden — can be made to function, but you have to build plenty of caves and "hidey holes" for the fish to disappear into, and you have to be willing to clean the pond and filters often.

At all the stops on the tour, club members, assisted by the older and more experienced Roseburg Koi Club, will be glad to fill you in on all the details and help you understand that, while it's not rocket science, it is science, and koi lovers need to learn it.

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