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Choosing the Right Fish for Your Pond

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 24 Sep 2020 | comments*Discuss
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For many people, a pond without fish is an impossible idea and choosing them can often be one of the most rewarding aspects of water gardening. Although there are many different varieties available, all ponds are not the same and each kind of fish has its own particular needs, so it is important to choose ones which will be suitable.

How Many Fish?

The size of the pond plays an important part in determining what kinds of fish – and how many – can be kept healthily, since some of the types commonly offered for sale can grow very large indeed. Most of pond fish require at least 50cm or so in depth, but koi and other varieties of large carp need at least double that to thrive. To get an idea of how many fish you can sensibly introduce, you need to work out the surface area – multiplying the length by the width to come up with a total in square metres (or feet). Although it is possible to increase their numbers after two or three years once the pond has become fully established, for a new water feature the total length of fish you add should not be more than around 25cm for every square metre of surface area – or 1 inch per square foot.

What Kinds?

Garden centres and pond suppliers often stock a wonderful array of species, ranging from the familiar goldfish to some altogether more exotic kinds, such as the European Catfish – though since this grows to around two metres in length, for most ponds it is probably best avoided! Much of the decision depends on what appeals to you, but it is important to keep in mind how big your chosen fish will ultimately be and select accordingly.

Koi and Carp

Giants among pond fish, koi and other carp can grow to 75cm or more in length and so are only really suited to large, well filtered ponds, without much in the way of ornamental planting, given their habit of pulling up vegetation. Some forms of koi are highly valuable – running into thousands of pounds, so the security of your pond also needs to be borne in mind, if one of real exhibition quality takes your fancy. The common carp is also offered for sale in its various forms, including the almost scale-less “leather carp” and the large-scaled “mirror carp.” Less showy than their Japanese relation, these carp are large and impressive fish to keep if space permits.


That old favourite, the goldfish, remains as popular a choice as ever and generally do very well. There are many varieties to choose from, though the “fancy” forms, with their bubble-eyes, enlarged heads and oversize fins are not recommended since they tend not to tolerate the cold in the winter and in the summer, faster-swimming fish out-compete them for food. More normal forms like the comets – with their long tails – and the gloriously multicoloured shubunkins are much better choices and routinely grow to 15cm or more and sometimes even double that.

Orfe and Rudd

Many pond-keepers have a particular fondness for the orfe, an active fish which spends most of its time near the surface, which makes them easily spotted – though this also means that some form of protection from cats and passing herons is probably a good idea. A gregarious species, they prefer to swim in shoals, so for them to thrive they need to be kept in groups of at least half-a-dozen, but since they can grow to 30cm or more, they need a fair bit of space. However, rudd, which only grow to about half that size, make a good alternative for the smaller pond, being very similar in their habits.


Various kinds of tench have been labelled “pond cleaners” since they spend most of their time at the bottom – in fact, you are lucky to see a tench at all after you have introduced it into the pond. The reputation is not entirely true, but their habit of rooting around for something to eat in the silt does mean that food left uneaten by the other fish is not left to rot. Some kinds of catfish, notably the European monster mentioned before, are offered for sale for the same reason, but since many of them grow to similarly impressive dimensions as their cousin, unless you are sure which sort you are buying, it is probably best to give them a miss.

Once you get your selection home, float their unopened plastic bag in the pond for half-an-hour or so, so that they gradually reach the same temperature, then open the bag and let pond water enter, to allow the fish to become accustomed to it – its chemistry will be different. After another few minutes, you can safely release them – and then all that remains is to enjoy your new arrivals.

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I just got a Blagdon half moon infinity pond. What fish and how many can I have please?
Daz - 24-Sep-20 @ 8:07 PM
Idug a 4m x 2mx av .depth 0.5 mgarden pond 3 years ago ,put 8 goldfish in ,last year I noticed some fry appear along with tadpoles frogs and good head of insect larvae,not goldfish fry ,thought they were minnows ,this year they have grown to about 1- 2ins and thereare about 50 ,what look to me like crucian carp definetly not minnows ,is this Too much for this pond as they get progressively bigger As the 7 goldfish left are about 4-5ins in size ,cheers any advice would be great.
Scouse brian - 1-Jun-20 @ 2:32 PM
We are tenants in a rental property, which has a defunct pond. Over the winter the pond filled up with rainwater, and there are still plants thriving there. We now have a problem, as a frog spawned in the pond which is now teeming with tadpoles, who are in the verge of becoming frogs. The water level is now just inches, and we are struggling to top it up daily with dechlorinated water. It is all quite stressful, and I am really concerned about ending up with dozens, if not hundreds, of frogs in the garden. Please help! Feel a terrible burden of moral responsibility, and don’t want lots of dead frogs.....
Ali - 29-May-20 @ 10:19 PM
I have just seen many small black fish in my pond - about 5/6 cms long. What are they? I have never purchased such fish!
SUSHI - 14-Apr-20 @ 2:12 PM
Our pond which is 25 years old , measures 15 x 9ft with a depth of 3ft at one end and 1ft at the other has over the years contained a variety of fish.At the present it has around 25 fish ranging from ghost carp to golden orf, common gold fish etc.The pond is well stocked with plants and maintains a good natural balance - apparently!However, we have two problems.The first is that we have never had any fish breeding which is not of course a major problem but rather curious.A far more disturbing problem is that over the last several weeks we have had several fish die for no apparent reason.The remaining fish eat well and appear to be as active as they have always been. Any ideas please?
Keroleja - 21-Jul-18 @ 11:59 AM
I had loads of frogs spawn in my small pond a while back then we had freezing cold weather and pond iced over on surface. All the spawn has died which I assume is because of cold and now one of my two goldfish has also died and other is not looking good.Is the dead spawn causing this?
JB - 6-Apr-18 @ 8:54 AM
Jeanie this is normal behaviour in colder weather, the fish retreat to the bottom of the pond where the temperature fluctuates less and become much less active to preserve energy. I don't think it can be called 'hibernating' but it isa similar process for similar reasons. Keep feeding them (although maybe a bit less than normal as the uneaten food will collect at the bottom of the pond and decay) and they will return to normal as the weather gets warmer :)
Chloe - 12-Dec-17 @ 1:59 PM
I have eightfish who have thrived since Igot them in July, 4 goldfish and two shubunkins and two black ones I don't know the name of, but since the weather turned cold they seem to be disappearing, the pond has a net over it. are they hibernating or have they died, but no bodies have been seen. The food goes and we have seen one or two. Please help
Jeanie - 29-Nov-17 @ 4:11 PM
Bill - Your Question:
What fish will not eat frog spawn or tadpoles

Our Response:
We don't know of any. Most fish will eat spawn/tadpoles, as will frogs, newts etc
PondExpert - 12-Sep-17 @ 11:27 AM
what fish will not eat frog spawn or tadpoles
Bill - 10-Sep-17 @ 6:16 PM
shkenny your stickleback is a male making a nest to attract a mate for breeding. as the female lays the eggs in the nest , the male will fertilize them. the female will leave all the hard work to the male who will fan oxygenated water over the eggs until they hatch and tidy up the nest also seeing off potential predators. The male will look after the hatchlings for a little while after hatching until they eat for themselves.
lindyloo - 18-Aug-17 @ 3:13 PM
Shkenny - Your Question:
Why does my stickleback fish keep swimming to the bottom grabbing a load of algae and bringing back up to a certain plant and putting it all in the same place. does this mean it's getting a place ready to have babies or something else ???? Its been doing it for at least 3days straight now

Our Response:
We really don't know sorry! It's not something we've come across and we can't find anything that gives a definitive answer.
PondExpert - 27-Jun-17 @ 2:36 PM
Why does my stickleback fish keep swimming to the bottom grabbing a load of algae and bringing back up to a certain plant and putting it all in the same place.. does this mean it's getting a place ready to have babies or something else ???? Its been doing it for at least 3days straight now
Shkenny - 26-Jun-17 @ 10:49 AM
My pond is shaded, and spring water is constantly running into it with the excess spilling out over a rock.No filterization, but nice and clear with a bed of leaves on the bottom.We have a few resident frogs.What kind of fish and plants could survive in these types of conditions in Pennsylvania?
reno - 27-Jun-15 @ 4:09 PM
Two years ago i was given two black fish and 4 gold fish as a present the black fish are now quite large (about 6 inches) where as all my goldfish are 2" to 4". this year my fish appears not to have had any small baby fish, do you think these black fish are eating the small baby fish? I do not have a name for these black fish. All these fish were purchased at a reputable garden centre. If you think that these black fish are eating the baby fish a picture of what type of fish they could be could be helpful so that i could compare. Thanks chris
chris - 12-Jun-14 @ 1:15 PM
We have just endured appalling loses of larger Koi due poor water conditions. The filters broke down and ammonia levels went very high. Also I realise now that the pond was overcrowded. Now at last I have the screenmatic system in and the water has been largely replaced. I have also use the pond vac and at last the fish are happy. My question is how long roughly do fish take to recover completely and start breeding again. I want to reintroduce Orfe and Tench but feel apprehensive and just not add new fish until next spring. What would you recommend please? Thank you very much. I have three filters running now and the pumps are cleaned regularly with a karcher to get rid of dead plant matter.
Dagenham Del - 17-Jul-13 @ 2:53 PM
Hi, I have been on a few sites to try and establish what type of fish would suite my pond and location. I must thank you for your information on the type of fish available to certain conditions. I have now made my choice and am going to proceed with Tench for my pond. Many thanks, Wild Willie
wild willie - 29-Aug-12 @ 4:39 PM
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