• Koi collectors honor the colorful fish andthe people who love them
Doug Fredrickson is like a lot of guys out in Clackamas County. After knocking off work on a summer day, he likes to head out to the back deck, maybe take a cold beer along.
But then he sits and gazes into a pond filled with thousands of dollars' worth of 20-million-year-old fish.
Fredrickson is a member of the Northwest Koi and Goldfish Club. He'll be at the 23rd annual Northwest Koi & Goldfish Show, which surfaces this weekend at the World Forestry Center.
Club historian Jerry Karo said people such as Fredrickson are learning what a select few have known for centuries: 'After a stressful day, you go out and sit next to your pond and just watch the patterns move,' he said. 'It brings you back. They're gentle fish. They're peaceful.
'Right now, there are over 100 individual clubs across America registered to the AKCA,' Karo said, referring to thenational Association of Koi Clubs ofAmerica. That organization claims 9,400 families as members.
This weekend's show will feature seminars, fish judging and the crowning of the national 'Koi Person of the Year.' Koi and goldfish will be sold at auction at1 p.m. on Sunday.
'It's a very colorful event,' said Roxy Boyle, facilities coordinator at the World Forestry Center. 'It's one that we look forward to every year. They have a pretty good following.'
If ever there was proof of the delicate and exacting Asian aesthetic sensibility, it is the transformation of a bottom-feeding fish into high-priced art. 'It is very common for a fish to sell between $50,000 to $80,000, and on occasion over $100,000,' Karo said. 'It can be extremely expensive.'
Koi are descendants of a charcoal-colored carp called magoi. Carp fossils date back 20 million years. A native of eastern Asia, the fish is thought to have been introduced to Japan around 200 B.C. by invading Chinese armies.
In the 17th century, rice farmers in the Niigata prefecture of northwestern Japan began keeping the fish in the paddies to supplement their diet. When mutations of color appeared, the farmers began breeding the fish for ornamental use.
'The emperor found out that these guys had these beautiful fish,' Karo said. 'He sent parties into the mountains. They brought the fish down in goatskins. The hobby spread to very affluent families.
'Japan still has the mystique,' Karo said.
The Northwest club is one of seven U.S. clubs with membership in the prestigious Zen Nippon Airinkai of Japan. Karo said the name translates to the All-Japan Fish Scale Appreciation Society.
Fredrickson, 41, believes there are 15 fish in his 6,500-gallon pond. 'I've never counted them,' he said. They move gracefully through the water in an array of vivid colors, but even the more muted are striking. One 2-foot specimen, Sunshine, sports an almost Day-Glo yellow.
Handsome piece of ground
Anchored by a 6-foot Japanese black pine and weighty slabs of rock, the pond is surrounded by lush grasses, evergreens and flowering ground cover. It is the centerpiece of Fredrickson's handsome 1 1/2-acre parcel.
'You can only have so many fish in terms of gallons of water,' he said. 'The water quality has to be pretty good.'
Fredrickson said the koi are nearly inactive in cold weather, even if the surface of the pond freezes. 'They go down to the bottom and just kind of settle in,' he said. He doesn't feed the fish for months in winter.
'A lot of people are amazed. They don't understand how large they get,' Fredrickson said. 'There's a couple I know that has fish 36 to 40 inches long.'
'They're very hardy,' Fredrickson said. 'It's not uncommon for a fish to live 80 years or 100 years or more if the conditions are right.'
There are dangers. Fredrickson's pond at his home just outside Milwaukie is surrounded by electrified wire to thwart the two biggest threats to his fish, raccoons and blue herons. The herons can't carry off the fish, he said, because they're unable to wade into the pond, which has no shallow water. But he's seen the birds perched on the roof of his deck, hungrily eyeing the fish.
Other visitors are more welcome.
'You get so much other nature,' Fredrickson said. 'You get dragonflies and the birds and the squirrels. Frogs have come around. They croak at night.
'It's an enjoyable hobby.'