The colorful koi in front of Tom Taylor wasn’t perfect.
The Sanke fish — a koi with white, black and red spots — had a few too many black scales dirtying its back, an unattractive sight that his past owner couldn’t bear.
But what this fish lacked in looks, he made up for in personality.
“We’re got a friendly fish here,” said Taylor, an auctioneer standing over the fish’s tank.
Bidding started at $50 for the koi, one of dozens up for sale Saturday during the Koi Re-Homing Auction, an event that has grown along with the hobby’s popularity.
Breeders weren’t allowed at this auction, which was hosted by the Southern Colorado Koi Club. Instead, it was a chance to find new homes for fish already living in the Pikes Peak region.
“He’s not turning out to be the fish I wanted, so I’ll re-home him,” said Jerry Hunter, president of the club and owner of the Sanke koi. “To somebody else, that will be the best fish in their pond.”
But with each spirited bid, the auction proved a chance to feed an obsession that can consume an entire backyard.
The hobby of raising koi originated in Japan and spread to the United States in the mid-20th Century. It’s a time consuming pursuit — one steeped in worry about ammonia levels and nitrate spikes in the pristine ponds that dot backyards across the city.
But it’s also one that fosters the same relationships that other people have with dogs or cats.
Hunter admired a Chai koi on Saturday, one that auctioned for $600, the days most expensive sale. Then he watched as his oddball koi sparked a spirited bidding war.
“It’s the beauty of the fish,” Hunter said. “They’re often referred to as ‘living jewels.’”
Despite the fish’s extra black scales, its playful demeanor took over. The fish, which was bred in Japan, has the quirky habit of shaking its head, Hunter boasted, and playfully keeps its head right below the surface of the water whenever fed.
“He thinks his nose is an inch longer than it is,” Hunter said.
His sales pitch worked: The fish sold for $110.
To a longtime koi owner, it was a screaming deal. To a novice — like Cindy Rhodes, who built her first pond in November — it was all a bit intimidating.
“I don’t want to buy one because I’m afraid I’d kill it at this point,” Rhodes said, laughing.
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