If you’ve ever admired your pond and thought your koi could be prize-winning, you may be right. Perhaps you have a Bekko with exceptional coloring or a Kohaku with an unusually crisp and clean pattern, and you’re curious to see how they measure up to the competition.

Koi shows are a great way to share your koi with the world and meet other enthusiasts, but the show circuit can sometimes feel daunting for beginners. If you’ve ever considered showing your koi but are unsure where to start, you’re not alone. Every show veteran started as a newcomer. We’ve put together some information, tips, and guidelines that will have you and your koi show-ready in no time.

The Basics

Before entering, it’s a good idea to do some research and gain an understanding of how competitive koi shows work. Going to a few events is a great way to get a sense of what’s involved in the hobby. It also gives you the opportunity to chat with other koi enthusiasts and ask questions you may have. Attending shows will give you an idea of what judges are looking for and help you decide which of your koi may have what it takes.

Many regional and national hobbyist groups also run forums where members can discuss upcoming events and share knowledge about keeping koi. These forums are a great place to learn more about local koi shows, rules and regulations, and even judging criteria.

Most shows in the United States follow the English model of competition where each koi is kept in its own tank. The judging categories are separated by class or variety and then by size. There are typically several different awards given within each category and then one overall winner, usually called the “Grand Champion.”

Though the exact judging criteria depends on the show, each koi is judged by the set standards for their variety, which includes conformation, color, pattern, quality and elegance, and imposing presence. Below are some examples of common evaluation categories.

Conformation

Conformation is typically the most heavily weighted category when judging koi, and it’s a measure of the koi’s overall body composition. All parts of the body should be symmetrical, including the head, tail, and fins. There should be no missing fins or barbels, and the body should be free from deformities or irregularities, which includes signs of illness or infection. The body should be torpedo shaped: narrower at the mouth, widened around the shoulders, and then narrow again towards the tail. The head should be wide with a rounded nose and slightly convex forehead. Fins should have strong edges without fraying or holes.

Color

When it comes to color, judges are looking for depth and vibrancy. The color should appear “thick,” similar to multiple coats of paint. Coloring that is uniform with distinct edges is preferable to colors that overlap.

Pattern

Pattern refers to how colors are placed on the koi. Exact pattern standards depend on the variety of koi being judged. The most important feature is that the pattern is balanced and not disproportionately heavy on the front, tail, or side. The edge where two colors meet is called “kiwa.” There are two different kiwa patterns: kamisori (razor) and maruzome (scalloped). The kamisori pattern edge resembles a straight line through the scales, whereas maruzome follows the contours of the scales and appears more rounded. Kiwa should be crisp and distinct. The pattern should be free from blemishes and  “windows,” which are small patches of color within bigger areas.

Quality and Elegance

Quality and elegance refers to how the koi carries itself. Movements should be graceful and swimming should be smooth. Any sort of fin deformities may result in awkward or disjointed movements. Koi should appear relaxed with pectoral fins held out.

Imposing Presence

An imposing presence is based on the first impressions of the koi. Judges look for that “wow” factor, as well as the overall orientation and appearance of the koi. Koi that appear strong and healthy tend to score higher in this category.

Choosing Koi

Once you’ve gained an understanding of how shows work and what judges look for, you can start thinking about which koi you want to show. It’s a good idea to do some research on what traits are important in each variety and which categories tend to be more competitive.

Though you often are allowed to have more than one entry, it’s smart to stick to one or two for your first couple shows to make preparation easier. Keep the judging standards in the back of your mind when choosing your fish. Is the fish shy? Does it have a history of illness? These are all things you’ll want to take into account.

Choosing A Show

The next step is choosing a competition. Your local koi club is a great place to start. If you’re unfamiliar with the koi clubs in your areas, the Associated Koi Clubs of America website has a directory of clubs by state. Koi magazines and hobbyist websites also typically have lists of upcoming shows.

Choosing a show further down the road is never a bad idea, as it gives you extra time to prepare. If it’s your first koi show, check and see if the show you’re interested in has a novice category. The novice category is specifically made for first-timers, and it’s a great way to ease into the show world by allowing you to compete against other beginners. Before registering, be sure to check the guidelines to ensure you’re eligible.

Once you’ve chosen a show, you can begin the registration process. Registration forms will ask you for contact information, what size show tank you require, and the size of your fish. In most cases, the variety or class is declared on the day of the show, so this information is not typically required in advance. Most shows have registration fees, which are paid when you submit your registration form.

Show Preparation

In order to make sure your koi is in tip-top shape for show day, it’s best to start preparations a few months in advance. Food and water quality are extremely important when it comes to getting your koi into show condition.

Feeding

Preparatory feeding can begin as early as four months before the show date. If you scour online koi forums and groups you may find some tips and tricks for pre-show feeding, but many enthusiasts keep their competition regimen a secret. Most hobbyists recommend feeding a high-protein diet 3-4 months before the show. Spirulina can be introduced to help enhance color.

High-protein diets and color enhancers should be stopped within two months of the show, and the frequency of feeding should be reduced by 50%. Feedings should be stopped altogether in the days prior to a show. This helps reduce the risk of ammonia stress due to excess waste when transporting your koi to the show.

Water Quality

Good water quality helps keep koi healthy, which is why it’s essential to keep your pond water in exceptional condition leading up to a show. It’s important to keep up with routine pond maintenance, which includes filter changes and monitoring water parameters. Beginning two months before the show, 25% water changes should be made once a week. In the two weeks leading up to the show, 10-15% water changes should be made every other day.

Parasite treatments, which can be harsh to the skin and dull color, should be avoided in the months before a show. If possible, water temperature should be kept between 65°F and 75°F. Warmer water temperatures can help boost appetite and digestion, which will support growth. Some enthusiasts recommend adding montmorillonite koi clay to water a few weeks or days before the show. Koi clay is known to improve water quality, aid in koi digestion, boost the immune system, and enhance color.

Transporting Koi

Transporting your koi to a show might sound like a challenging task, but it can be a relatively simple process if done properly. The overall goal is to keep your koi as stress-free as possible. Bagging should be the last thing you do before leaving on show day. To prepare your koi for transport, you’ll need a fine mesh net, bottled oxygen and a hose, large polyethylene fish bags, water conditioner, rubberbands, a styrofoam or cardboard box, and ice packs.

Before moving your koi from the pond, you’ll want to prepare its transport bag. The water in the transport bag should be deep enough to completely cover the fish, but no deeper than 25% of the bag. It’s important to try and keep the pH and temperature of the bag water as close as possible to the pH and temperature of the pond water. For longer journeys, it’s recommended to treat the water with a water conditioner to limit ammonia build-up.

Next, you’ll need to net your koi. To do this, slowly submerge the net into the pond. Do not chase your koi with the net, as this will cause unnecessary stress. Anticipate the fish’s movements and try to approach from the front and gently coax it into the net. Beware that your koi will likely try to escape the net.

After your fish has been added to the transport bag, gently squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag. Then, insert the O2 hose into the top of the bag and hold the bag neck around the hose as you inflate. Once inflated, quickly remove the hose and twist off the bag. Fold the twist and rubberband the top to seal. For extra precaution, double or triple bag the oxygenated bag and seal with rubber bands. The bag should be placed horizontally in a styrofoam or cardboard box that has little wiggle room. Add ice packs around the bag to keep your koi cool during transport.

Though the show circuit may seem intimidating, most enthusiasts agree that the experience is worth it. Even if your koi doesn’t win big, shows are a great opportunity to get to know your local koi community, attend seminars and workshops, and meet with vendors and dealers. The more shows you attend and compete in, the more comfortable the process will become. With the right preparation, your prized koi just might be the next Grand Champion.

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