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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sometimes good enough is good enough

Sunday, August 29, 2010

240 Gallon Tub Corner

The sanding, grinding, shaping, itching and fiberglassing is done. The site is cleared and leveled. Hope to have them plumbed this week and maybe have fish in by labor day weekend.

Goldfish Anatomy

Friday, August 27, 2010

Deme Ranchu

The Deme Ranchu is the Celestial in Englist terms.  It was supposed that it arose from a cross of the Demekin and the Ranchu but below you will find text that states the Deme Ranchu arrived in Japan in the late 1800 to early 1900s.  This line was developed in China and does not contain Ranchu.

Here is the missing link as to where this confusion arose:
Journal of the Imperial Fisheries Institute, Volumes 27-30 1932

"Furthermore, it is quite speculative to theorize that in the hybrids. The Shubunkin will be produced from the wakin and the Demekin, and the Deme-ranchu form Demekin and the Ranchu. The latter mistake arose through a wrong picture in Mr. Matsubara’s paper.

d. The Chotengan (Astronomical telescope-eyed gold-fish).

This also called ‘Deme-ranchu’, and appellation first given by Dr. Mitsukuri (1904) when som 30 of the fish were imported from Kwanatung, China in the 35th or 36th year of Meiji (1902 or 1903). The name of ‘Deme-ranchu’ has been mistaken by Mr. Smith (1917) for a hybrid of the Demekin and Ranchu but the hybrid is not yet a variety."

Japanese goldfish, their varieties and cultivation: a practical guide to the Japanese methods of goldfish culture for amateurs and professionals.

Congress of arts and science, Universal exposition, St. Louis, 1904, Volume 4

The book of water gardening, Peter Bisset 1907

Bulletin of the Bureau of Fisheries, Volume 24 1905

The National geographic magazine, Volume 17 1907

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ranchu: King Of Goldfish

Ranchu: King of goldfish

Copyright © Neil Hepworth

The Ranchu goldfish is said to resemble a Japanese sumo wrestler. Jeremy Gay visits the founding members of the Ranchu Brotherhood UK.

Regular readers will be aware that my fishy tastes could be described as eclectic to say the least. Although I love wild type fish I’m interested in the ornamental too, and when Paul Green invited me to see some Ranchu owned by a new goldfish society, the Ranchu Brotherhood, I knew I’d be in for a treat.

Ranchu are a man-made fancy goldfish variety, with a dorsal-less back, short twin tail and developing a hood all over the head. They are fairly common in the shops, mostly coming from China, but you won’t find the likes of these in shops…

According to the guys I met, real Ranchu come from Japan where they are highly prized, almost as an art form, and there they can get similar attention and sell for similar money as some Koi carp.

Attention to detail and mating the right fish is paramount to producing the near perfect progeny, and the whole hobby is conducted in a manner similar to Bonsai, with quality being everything, followed by patience and meticulous long-term dedication.

I love how Japanese aquatics always seem to represent something, and go hand in hand with ancient proverbs and techniques. The planted aquarium can be arranged to represent mountains, fields and streams.

Paul said that Ranchu were originally bred along the shape guidelines of sumo wrestlers, with a big head and a heavy body. He says that culturally they represent good things about Japan and bring a sense of harmony. Called the 'king of goldfish' there, they have a big following.

Brotherhood origins

The Ranchu Brotherhood was created by Belgian Geert Coppens who is quite famous in Japan. He built many relationships while there and developed the Ranchu brotherhood bloodline.

The brotherhood has members across Europe, including Holland and Belgium, with 18 members in total and four of those in the newly-formed UK organisation. They meet up regularly in the UK and with the other European members at shows.

Paul Green (centre), Craig Smith (left) and Graham Edwards (right) are the three UK founding members and on our visit were just leaving for a show in Belgium. They were to be travelling on Eurotunnel and the trip was to be a social event as much as anything. The good thing is that they can be there and back in a day.

Meet Paul

Paul Green started keeping fish at 13. He got a job in an aquatic centre which soon took over his life and, although at first his parents wouldn’t let him have a tank, Paul went on to have 13. His first fancies were a black Telescope and a white Fantail, and his first Ranchu was a white one that arrived at the aquatic shop.

After that he started keeping all sorts of fish, from cichlids to marine to freshwater stingrays. Eight years ago he got back into Ranchu — and this time the bug really bit.

Paul admits to loving all things Japanese, although he hasn’t had a chance to go there yet. He says that one of the main fishkeeping problems in Japan is room and to be a top breeder there, and to have space to do it, you need to be wealthy.

"To breed top fish you need a good eye," adds Paul, and talking to him and the other members about their fish, their lives and their other bits, they all seem perfectionists — but in a nice way of course!

One of his top tips for keeping show quality Ranchu is to never catch them in a net. Paul cradles each one in his hands, as he says you remove less mucus from the fish with a wet hand than with a net.

Achieving quality

From what I learned on my visit you initially need to seek quality bloodlines, and this isn’t something you can just buy into. Craig Smith decided on Ranchu after keeping a full-blown marine reef aquarium and exchanged emails with breeders in Japan for 18 months before they would let him buy from them.

I have also heard similar stories about top Koi breeders there who won’t sell to just anyone and would rather cull fish than let inferior specimens get into circulation — or be kept by people for the wrong reasons.

Once here, different methods are used to what we would normally employ with fancy goldfish in tanks. The fish are kept in ponds, or vats, as this gives them maximum growing on and swimming room, and the Japanese breed Ranchu to be viewed from above, like Koi.

Water depths are shallow at around 25cm/10” in most cases, and I have seen this on other fancy goldfish breeder visits. Paul doesn’t filter the vats and instead understocks them, relying on large 100% water changes every 6-7 days. However Craig does, using Koi- type filtration methods. PFK recommends filtering if you are set to have a go.

All the fish I saw had access to natural daylight too, albeit through plastic covers, but daylight is key in developing rich colours.

Food is very important for producing quality fish and they are fed twice a day — and up to six times per day if growing on youngsters or preparing for showing. The Ranchu Brotherhood members prefer Saki Hikari pellets as a staple along with frozen bloodworm.


At 20°C/68°F the fish will breed and Paul says to start by choosing your best male and female for spawning. Then you can try the female with different males in future spawnings.

Paul is always looking for the best quality male and the best quality females for spawns. English lionheads can be bred to fit a breed standard, but in Japan there are no such standards and the attributes in favour may change over time.

Ranchu are now longer in the body and stronger swimmers than they used to be, which is much better in terms of fish health.

If your fish are happy and temperature right they will breed — and the members say that fish will never breed unless happy and settled.


Japanese Ranchu are shown in shallow bowls to be viewed from above. If the Ranchu themselves are said to represent sumo wrestlers in looks and shape, the bowls are said to represent their ring arena. In Japan there can be three to five judges evaluating each fish and they all offer a score.

Fish in Japan are picked up by hand, inspected, and then replaced in the show bowl. Even how they swim away after being picked up counts towards points! This isn’t something practised in the UK…

The Ranchu should have a long, wide, well-developed head, a long body and a tail like swallows’ wings. The 'bracelet' on the tail — the base of the caudal peduncle — should be wide and catch the eye first with reflective scales.

As with Koi, the colour on a Ranchu can change almost completely as it matures — and with age, like many goldfish, they often become whiter. According to Paul, until a few years ago you would never see a white fish ranked highly in shows, but in 2004 a 98% white fish won the All Japan Show. Yellow heads are now favoured too.

You don’t have to show your fish if you keep top quality Ranchu, but if you develop your own lines and take the time and money that these people have, you would probably want to show the fruits of your labour too.

Is it expensive?

When you get hold of quality fish from famous Japanese breeders it can be quite expensive, but Craig advises that all you need to get started is a plastic water feature tub, and air stone. That’s your first little Ranchu pond! We would advise a small filter too of course!

Craig previously spent a lot of money on his reef tank and took the same route when he got into Ranchu. He advises switching your electricity to Economy 7 and says to get a water report from your supplier, as they are free on request.

The winners of the All Japan Show may be worth a staggering £15,000 and by breeding your own fish, who knows… you could create the next champion!

Club benefits

The founding members encourage new UK members and enjoy sharing the experience of learning and studying the fish. There is a social side too, just meeting and conversing with like-minded people, and the three members I met will all have a beer together too.

Ages have names!

Ranchu are shown in groups according to age. A Tosai is a Ranchu in its first year. The following January 1 all Tosai — regardless of when they hatched in that first year — become Nisai. The next January they become an Oya. They remain so from then on, but referred to as young or old Oya.

Get in touch

If you want to contact Paul, Graham or Craig, email them at Unfortunately, the website is not ready yet, but should be up and running shortly!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Matsuyama and live foods

They are about two months old an eating lots of live food.
Two inch Matsuyama Top View Ranchu
The live foods are co-cultured in 100 gallon tubs and 25 gallon half barrels. There are: moina, daphnia, bloodworms, copepods, glass worms, mosquitoes, and duckweed. Right now I can harvest this much about every other day. There is not a better mix of foods for goldfish.

Goldfish breeder Tommy Sutton

PFK archive: Goldfish breeder Tommy Sutton

Nick Fletcher, Tuesday 3 August, 2010, 10:13
By popular demand Practical Fishkeeping has searched the archives and found the early eighties article "Clock on Tommy," on legendary fancy goldfish breeder Tommy Sutton, written by the then editor Nick Fletcher.

Springtime means all hands to the pumps for Britain's leading breeders of fancy goldfish, as Nick Fletcher discovered on one of their rare tea breaks...

It was poet and playwright T.S.Elliot who wrote in "The Wasteland" that: April is the cruelest month." And Britain's longest standing goldfish breeders would echo that sentiment heartily.

Every night, from mid-april onwards, their alarm clocks are set to go off at three hourly intervals. Then it's up in all weathers to pour brineshrimp, cyclops and daphnia down the hungry throats of fry - ensuring that their throats are never less than full.

That's one of Tommy Sutton's many secrets. At 76 he has over 60 years experience with fish of all kinds, and only now will he grudingly admit that his son (another Tommy) could probably manage the business himself - with a bit of advice thrown in here and there, naturally. 

Some breeding establishments concentrate on quantity, quality taking a back seat. But its the Sutton's proud boast that every single fish released to retailer or hobbyist has the potential to spawn a champion. That's the reward for being picky over half a century - line bred goldfish with aristocracy in their blood.

As you'd expect, there are no short cuts to breeding high quality fancies, but nor is it a case of using the latest in high technology equipment. The Sutton's back garden near Coleshill, in Birmingham, is given over almost entirely to simple rectangular ponds.

Three sheds house tanks that were constructed before anyone had heard of silicone sealant. The rest is down to commonsense and hard graft.
The Sutton's year begins in mid-January, when brood fish are started on their conditioning programme - as much food as they can eat, including plenty of chopped earthworms.

The sexes, still segregated, are brought indoors at the end of March, and depending on temperature, are introduced male to female a few days later. The technique is simple - bare six foot tanks containing frames of 3/4" Bartol overflow with six to eight inches of curtain net attached and weighted down with smooth pebbles.

As soon as spawning has taken place, the nets (complete with fertilised eggs) are lifted and transferred to a fresh, clean sterilized tank. Heater stats keep the temperature between 70 and 75 and hatching occurs in four or five days.

There's no filtration, no substrate, nothing to introduce disease organisms - just an airstone running gently to circulate the heat.

Brine shrimp production lines will have already been set up - a simple battery of sweet jars and an airstone to keep the cooking salt mix agitated. The first meals of Artemia begin three days after hatching, and that's when the sleepless nights start for the Suttons.

Its also where the commercial process differs from the methods used by most ordinary hobbyists. For the young fish don't graduate straight on to powdered flake from brine shrimp. They move on to sifted cyclops and then to daphnia, all carefully size graded through nine separate sieves to ensure correct particle size.

"Nobody has the excuse they can't get daphnia," says Tommy senior. "It's a matter of getting a large scale Ordinance Survey map and looking at all the small patches of blue. We are looking for farm ponds, and still bodies of water that don't hold fish and the diseases they can carry. Some farmers may refuse, some just require a small reward, but you'll get all you want if you just persevere."

The live food programme goes on for about six weeks, taking the Suttons conveniently into the start of the coarse fishing season, when they can relax with a rod and recharge their batteries. By now the young goldfish will be on on fine grade trout pellets. This is a high-protein diet, and while they must get enough of it, all surplus food must be removed or it will pollute the water.

Meanwhile the highly skilled job of culling will have begun. Hunched over an enamel with tea strainer in hand, Tommy senior looks first for fish with single caudal fins - an obvious fault in twin tailed goldfish. The rejects are fed to the adults in the outside ponds.

Two or three weeks later, the young - it would be wrong to call them fry even now - are checked to make sure they have the double anal. These are small fins that make little difference  to the appearance of otherwise perfect fish, but a single anal would disqualify a hopeful on the show bench.

The bigger the fish grow, the more obvious faults will become.Twists in finnage...poor body shape...washed out colours in calicos..all destine their owners to the supreme sacrifice.

It depends on variety how many of an original spawning are judged fit to raise on to adulthood. Short tailed orandas may be down within three months  to 260 from an initial 3-4000 fry. Among veiltail orandas, only 60 may make it. And calico veiltails are the most difficult of all to measure up.

Only 20-30 show quality fish may result from each spawning. This is the only variety where otherwise perfect fish with single anals are grown on - but for sale only to those who want attractive pond or aquarium fish - not serious fanciers.

If this culling rate seems excessive, consider that most of the Sutton's varieties have been in constant cultivation for decades. Only by being ruthless can the gene pools of fish be kept pure. This means that all their orandas will colour up, none of of their lionheads will have vestigial dorsal, and all hooded fish the way they should.

It should even be possible to breed true strains from parents with one or two minor faults, and of course, brood stock remains viable long after the ravages of time have precluded the fish from the show bench.

In a normal year, young fish can go outside as early as May - though if, as often happens the Suttons are pressed for space, some will stay indoors a bit longer. Before the transfer takes place, the occupants of the pools are moved elsewhere and, because all adult fish carry flukes, the pools are allowed to completely dry out before bring re-filled.

This kills the parasites. A day to allow the water to come up to temperature, and the youngsters may be safely introduced. Tommy floats them for an hour in a bowl, then they go in.

Once outside, they are fed up to four times daily on pellets the size of which keeps pace with their growth rate. There is no filtration on the ponds, which often means green water, but this is actually of benefit. The only danger comes in really hot weather.

Because the fish are being fed for growth, a pond can imbalance overnight. The remedy is to pump the level down to six inches, place the fish in a shower tray, refill and replace the occupants. Drastic but effective.

Stocking density is hard to evaluate, but a hobbyists with an 8'x6'x18" deep pond would be advised not to introduce more than 30 fish if he wanted to avoid stunting.

The growth rate of the Sutton's fish is phenomenal. Three months after being spawned they regularly attain 1 1/2" true body length. But spring spawned fish are not sold until the following September onwards, by which time they are sexually mature and ready to be bred after their winter dormancy.

None of the Sutton's fish that have spent summer outside are brought in for winter. But every October, once feeding ceases, pools are drained in rotation and scrubbed clean of accumulated silt. This means there is nothing to decay, even under seven inches of ice, and most fish come through the cold spell none the worse. A few may develop swim bladder troubles but as Tommy says, better that they should do so before they are sold.

Hardiness depends not so much on the variety of goldfish as on its in bred resistance to temperature changes - and this is imprinted in the genes just as strongly as fin and body shape.

All english bred, the Sutton's fish improve steadily over the years and its good that when Tommy senior finally carries out his threat to retire and show fish, his son will be there to take up the reins.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nitrile Glove Blue

Goldfish breeder Tommy Sutton

By popular demand Practical Fishkeeping has searched the archives and found the early eighties article "Clock on Tommy," on legendary fancy goldfish breeder Tommy Sutton, written by the then editor Nick Fletcher.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fiberglass tub rehab

Got a tube of white pigment to get the blue mix right. Just about the right color. This is the second tub and it just needs the inside bottom patched and its ready for the matsuyama or blue egg Phoenix. They'll be green water and duckweed till fall.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010