By Susan Emerson Nutter
SUNBURY, Ohio — Landscaping a yard utilizes a variety trees, shrubs, and flowers, but ponds are also fast becoming a must have addition. And of course, where there is a pond, there has to be fish; colorful fish whose movements add a dimension to the waterscape like no other.
Need fish? Check out Ohio Koi, LTD in Sunbury, Ohio. Started in 2008 by owner Todd Elliott and his wife, Amy, Ohio Koi grew to the point that just this past March Todd was able to leave the world of banking behind; after 20 years in that industry, to become a full-time koi fish farmer.
So how does one become involved with raising koi? “It really was not planned at all,” Todd explained. The story goes, the young couple bought a house in London, Ohio, and when the snow melted... surprise! A small pond/water garden was part of the landscape.
“I became intrigued with that pond and the fish that were in it. I soon wanted a bigger pond, and then another pond. We quickly outgrew our space and started looking for a more suitable place to grow my hobby,” Todd explained.
When deciding where the couple would go, land and lots of it to expand, was part of the goal. “We ended up in Sunbury, Ohio, on 11.8 acres and have not looked back,” Todd said. And though the couple applied for their LLC in 2008, it wasn’t until 2015 they actually went into business.
That business now includes eight mud ponds for breeding and rearing koi, 24 retail sales tanks, and a retail shop where pond/koi owners can buy everything from pumps, filters, and aquatic plants to food to feed the fish. They are Ohio’s only supplier of Nijikawa’s line of koi food.
“We spawn and raise a little more than half of the fish we sell and the rest we import from Japan via our vendor out of New Jersey,” Todd explains. Raising fish at Ohio Koi is accomplished by putting one female and about three male koi in a tank along with some brushes. When the female releases eggs, they are sticky and attach to the brushes. The males’ milt immediately fertilize the eggs and those egg-laden brushes are removed and placed outside in a mud pond where the koi hatch and begin their lives.
It is fascinating to visit Ohio Koi and see the mud ponds. An electric fence surrounds each pond and a spider web of wires crisscross a few feet above the water’s surface. Todd explains, “The wires above the pond’s surface keep duck and geese from landing in the ponds, and the osprey away from fishing out of the ponds. Blue herons land on the shore and then walk to the edge to fish. That’s what the electric fence keeps out.”
Once the koi in the ponds are mature enough, these fill the retail tanks inside Ohio Koi’s various buildings. There are small koi. There are large koi, and then there are really large koi – all different ages with again, 60 percent being domestic or raised at the farm or somewhere in the US, and 40 percent being imported from Japan. On any given day more than 2,000 koi are in the retail tanks available for purchase.
So what differentiates a middle of the road priced koi from a very expensive koi? “Just like any animal breeder or hobbyist of say horses or dogs or birds – each breed has a ‘gold standard.’ There are more than 100 varieties of koi each with a gold standard that breeders are striving to reach,” Todd explains.
Ohio Koi has a 10 year old, 33 inch long, three-colored showa (type of koi) from the best showa breeder in the world. “This is one of our breeder koi and probably has the most genetic value for us, so she is not for sale,” Todd said.
When asked if this fish has a name, Todd quickly states, “Nope, and don’t ask me which of the fish is my favorite. I’ve come to learn as soon as you name a fish or say it is your favorite, it will die within a week. I am not going to jinx my fish!” he added with a smile.
Breeding fish is a passion, but also a good business practice. “Since Covid, like all things, the cost of shipping koi from Japan has become very expensive,” Todd explains. “Because of this we have decided that half of our mud ponds would be dedicated to growing out the fish we breed here.”
Ohio Koi has also added pond maintenance services seeing a growing need in that area. “We clean ponds, help owners open their ponds in the spring, powerwash ponds, upgrade filtration systems, close ponds in the winter, fix leaks if they occur, and we offer consulting services for those who are considering adding a pond to their landscape,” Todd said.
A visit to Ohio Koi is all about the fish, but be sure to walk around the manicured gardens. In his younger days, Todd worked for Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio, where he was immersed in all the unique trees, shrubs, and flowers Ohio has to offer. You will find many different species of flora in the gardenscapes and waterscapes of Ohio Koi because of this.
Also check out the fantastic murals painted on the buildings and surrounding wood fences, and come fall – the Elliotts put in a small apple orchard which they are hoping will provide visitors to Ohio Koi the opportunity to pick some apples while they pick out their new fish.
“I thank my wife everyday for supporting my passion and helping it grow to what it has become today,” Todd said. When the other half of Ohio Koi, Amy, was asked what her take away is from watching and helping her husband realize his dream, she said with a smile in her voice, “The moral of this story is - never buy a house in Ohio in the winter.”