Ok, You've got your pond or tank up and running, You have decided on what kind of fish you want. Your ready to make a pick, what do you look for?
First off, I'm not going to go into looking for high quality fish. Most of us may never own or show a fish. But weather your buying a high quality fish or a common goldfish for the pond there are still things we need to look for before purchasing.
I'm going to stick with the two basic Pond fish, Koi and Goldfish. But this should cover most fish purchases for pond fish of any kind.
Koi, are usually looked at from above and are usually sold in tanks or vats where they can be viewed from the top. If your looking at one in a fish tank you going to want to see what it looks like when viewing it from above, not the side.
Most goldfish are almost always sold in fish tanks, same thing applies. But wait! It's in a tank, You can see a side view of the fish so what do we look for first.
First we want to make sure there is no redness in the fins or tail, we want to look and make sure there is no redness or sores on the body. We want to look for fish that are clear of anything that looks like cotton or threads form the mouth, body, or fins, as this is a fungus and can be very contagious to other fish.
The fish your looking at should be alert and swimming naturally, not at the surface gasping for air or laying on the bottom looking weak or sad.. Look for white spots that appear to be salt on the fish if so these fish have parasites! Avoid buying if you see any of the above symptoms.
Ok so we have gotten this far and the fish still looks to be in good shape.
Look at both sides of the fish, does it have all it's fins and eyes? Are the gill plates laying flat against the body or are they curled outwards? They should be flat against the body and breathing at a rate of about 1-3 breaths to your own breath.
The faster they are breathing the more stressed they are and the more likely the dealers tank water has a problem. Is the water cloudy or are there any dead fish in the tanks. If so Ask the dealer to test the water in the tank for ammonia, nitrites and PH. You need to know what they are anyway, the closer you are to the water in the dealers tank the better and less stress that the fish will have to over come when you introduce it to it's new home. Also this is a good time to find out if the dealer will help you if you need help with your own water tests should a problem come up.
So you've gotten one picked out and so far all looks good. Now view it from the top. Or in the case of the fish being in a pond or vat and your looking down just reverse the ways of viewing but always view from both ways before deciding to buy. Looking down on the fish your now looking for what is called body confirmation.
Now I'm not going in depth here but what your really looking for here is, is the back straight and even or is it curved and looks like a "S" you want a fish that is straight from head to tail Not a "s" look as this is a deformity.
Look at the fishes head is it proportional to the size of the body. In most fish this is normal, but there are some variety's of fish that have been breed for larger heads or larger eyes. make sure this is wanted and not unwanted traits in the fish you want to purchase.
Look at the fins, Are they proportionally the same size and shape? They should be. If there is a slight tear in a fin and it's in the clear part it will usually heal with little or no effects to the fish, if a tear is deep and goes all the way to the point where the fin contacts the body this is where infections can take place and can be hard to spot if they get worse as you'll only be able to see the fish from the top.
Curled fins will be curled fins when they are young as well as when they get older, short fin fish usually for the most part will always be short finned fish. So if your looking for long flowing fins look for that in a young fish.
Now you notice that I haven't covered color's. Well, you want to know why? This should be the last thing you look at not the first, many new comers will look and buy a fish by it's color first, problem is, 60% or more of the fish you buy will NOT look the same when young as when they get full grown when it comes to color.
Now if you buy a red and white, ok it may stay red and white, or you may buy a yellow and black, may not stay yellow or black at all.
Chances are that oranges and patterns will usually stay for the most part, yellows and blacks very frequently change as a fish gets older.
For this reason I always look at the health first, body second, fins and tail third and color last.
There are more considerations when buying fish, I assure you the more you look and buy the more you see and the more information you will gain. Follow these tips and you'll pick a fish that is far more likely to be healthy and look good for many years to come.
Lastly I would like to add, Always try and quarantine a new fish for at least three weeks before adding to a pond.
First off, In most cases you do not have a clue what has been in contact with the fish you just purchased, could be a parasite that came form another tank, maybe a employee pulled a few dead fish out that were all covered in fungus and is using the same net to catch your fish, maybe the fish has a internal issue or bacteria infection that you can't visibly see.
Treating a fish in quarantine is far easier than treating a whole pond, and cheaper too! Losing one new fish is hard enough, losing a whole pond full is devastating.
Then you still have to treat the pond in order to start over. I've taken this short cut along with many others, experience from those that have been keeping fish for a long time will tell you, you may get away with it once, or twice, or maybe even three times,
But it will catch up to you sooner or later, walking out to a whole pond of dying fish can be a nightmare.
Quarantining a new fish is not only important, it's the right thing to do as a responsible Pet Owner