Koi Rescue
Phoenix Arizona

How Phoenix Koi Rescue Got Started

I got an email from Lenny Beard, who is a duck rescue guy. He had been at a defunct golf course pond in Scottsdale. The golf course was in forclosure and taken over by the city, and they were in the process of draining the ponds. Lenny saw there were many fish in the pond, and caught one of them. He wasn't exactly sure what the fish was, but put it in a container and then took it to a vet. The vet examined the fish, determined it was a koi and in excellent health. Lenny didn't know anything about koi and started emailing all the local koi clubs and enthusiast emails lists in town to try and get someone to come rescue the koi. At the time, there were no koi rescue organizations in our city, and pretty much not anywhere else either.

I got a copy of the email he sent out and called him up to see if anyone was responding. He said nobody so far, but could meet me at the pond in a half hour so here are the directions, I'll see you there. I just happened to have a clean 55 gallon barrel that I had recently acquired and was going to convert it into a filter for my pond. So I grabbed that and stuck it in the back of my minivan. I also had a couple of cast nets so I put those in the van too and headed off to see this pond Lenny was telling me about.

I pulled up to the pond and there was a guy standing there, I walked up and he said "Hi Shorty", shook my hand and said c'mon over here, this is what I was talking about. We wandered over around a bunker and there was a pond that had been drained down to about two feet of water. It was muddy and I couldn't see anything, then out of his pocket he pulled out a piece of bread and broke off a couple of pieces. He tossed them in the water and WHOA! There are some big koi in there !!! I looked at him sort of in shock, and he said "well, lets start catching them".

I went back and got my van and backed it closer to the pond and dug the cast net out of the trunk. Growing up my dad used to take me on vacation to Florida and he taught me how to throw one. I spent many hours casting in the surf catching mullet for for the fun of it. I never kept any of the mullet, I just liked casting and catching them. So I had my net out and Lenny was pointing to the ripples he could see and urging me to throw in that direction. With a twist and toss, my net went flying and opened up into a perfect circle. Gliding through the air like a UFO about to land in roswell, it landed on the water and I had to wait those everlasting few seconds for the net to sink. I did the jerk to cinch the bottom of the net closed, and could feel I had something !!!

Pulling in the net I could feel the twitching on the line and knew I had something big. As it got closer, the bunched up part of the net was the first thing that broke the surface of the water, then I could see it, a HUGE KOI!!!! Like about 30" long !!!

Lenny and I both looked at the koi, looked at each other, and then looked at the empty barrel in the back of my van. Then we looked at each other as if to silently say "what kind of idiots are we?". The barrel was empty and I didn't have a bucket to fill it. I started scanning my eyes one way and Lenny looked the other, then his finger went up again pointing over near a drainage ditch and said I see a bucket over there. He hustled over to the ditch and retrieved the bucket, then scooped some water from the pond and started filling the barrel. I carried over the koi and placed it in the barrel. The koi was so big, it couldn't sit in their straight, the barrel is only 24" in diameter and the koi was a lot bigger than that.

I was staring down in the barrel at this huge koi, half mezmerized and then Lenny brought me about of my trance by saying "lets go get another one". Walked back over to the edge of the pond, I straightened out my net and got it setup for another cast, looked up and Lenny was pointing again. I could see the swirl he was looking at, took my aim a little ahead of it and made another throw. Same thing, the UFO went flying, did the tug, and could feel something in the net as I pulled it back in. Holy SH^T !! I got another huge KOI !!!

Literally, within a half hour, and only 6 casts, I had 6 large koi in a barrel in the back of my car. The barrel was definately full, and just when I was starting to wonder what the heck I was going to do with the koi, Lenny said "So what time are we going to meet here tomorrow?". I said I had to figure what to do with the koi in the barrel first, but will call him as soon as I can get the koi out of there. I looked over at the pond, could see a lot of swirls and figured that there were a few (maybe a dozen) koi still in the pond.

I went home and unloaded the barrel to my back yard. My pond was already rather full, I was in the process of constructing a bigger pond and definately didn't have room for all these koi, so I started emailing all my friends begging them to come pickup these koi. Word got out that I was giving away free koi, and I was able to adopt them out the next day by 10am. So I called up Lenny and said the barrel was empty, lets go catch some more. Almost as if it were shampoo instructions, we caught more koi, filled the barrel, I would go home and start emailing to find new homes for them. After the barrel was empty, would head back to the pond and repeat the cycle again.

Guess how many koi were in that pond? Fifty. When we finally cleaned out that pond and on the last trip there, I shook Lenny's hand and said it was really fun rescuing the koi. I had only kept two of them, and given all the rest away to others that were very excited to get koi and were enjoying theirs. He had a big smile and said "yea, this is a lot of fun". He explained that in his volunteer efforts to rescue ducks, there were a ton of rewards for doing this type of work, even though there is no monetary gain. You get to meet new people, help some creatures that are in need, and make the world a better place.

Then he said "So, when do you want to start on the other ponds?"

Ummm... what other ponds? That finger came up, he pointed to the bunker on the other side of the pond and said earlier that morning he had seen koi in that pond, and said there were 6 other ponds that way (pointing to the other direction). My jaw kinda dropped. I said, "really?". He said yea, lets go see them. So we walked over to the far side of the pond, up over the little bunker hill and guess what was there, another pond! And right there at the edge was a koi feeding on some plants at the edge! I looked back at my van, looked at where we were standing, and started to wonder how in the world did I not notice there was another pond right here. From where I normally drove in and parked, it was a bit of a recess and you can't see this other one, and I guess I had been so excited and focused on the first pond that I never looked around to see there was another.

Then he said lets go look at the other ones. We went up a bit to the top of the tallest bunker on the other side, and looked the long ways down the defunct golf course and sure enough, there were a total of 8 ponds on this course. Ohhhh Boy... we are gonna need a bigger boat.

So I started scratching my head about what I was going to do with all the other koi that were going to come from the other ponds. Lenny was a step ahead of me, he had already coordinated with the city to drain the ponds one by one and stop draining when the water was down to 12" so we could remove the koi. After the pond was empty, they would fully drain it and start draining the next one. I created a mailing list to announce when the next koi were available and people would come get them from my house when available. I also found a guy who had a huge seine net, and we started doing group rescues together. Volunteers would show up on a Saturday morning and we would drag the pond together with the huge seine net and then after it was emptied of all the koi, the people that wanted koi took turns picking out ones they wanted and would take them home directly.

We were down to the last pond which was also the largest. Lenny kinda likes getting on TV and in the newspapers, he is usually featured about once a month or so with all the other volunteer work he does, and invited the news to come to our last big volunteer day at the final pond. I didn't want to be in the news, was glad to have Lenny do the talking and it was great to also showcase all the volunteers that showed up, they all got to be in the newspapers too.

We had finised up the final pond, everything was great, I again shook Lenny's hand and said it was a wonderful experience. He gave me a pat on the back and told me we did good, and promised that this was all of the ponds that were on this course, and no surprises this time. The city was turning the golf course into a public park and would be filling in all the ponds so these fish would have died if we didn't save them. In all, I lost track of how many koi we pulled from that golf course but it was about 50 koi for each pond X 8 ponds. So around 400 or so koi. Well, there were a ton of baby koi that we caught, and am not counting those.

And then...

I didn't know this, but the newspapers have a website with a "more information" section for additional info about the stories they run. One of the newspapers published my contact info incase someone was interested in coming to volunteer to help rescue koi. So a week after we finished the first golf course, I got a call from a lady that had bought a house and it came with a pond, and she didn't know how to (and didn't want to) take care of the koi and asked if I could pick them up and find them a new home. I said sure.... drove on down and picked up the koi, went back and emailed my notification list and was able to re-home those koi too. Then a few days later, got another call...

Then a week later (a whole week), Lenny called me up with a frantic tone to his voice "Shorty!! You gotta get out here now!!". There was another golf course in a kinda rough end of town. The property was being converted into a site for new condominium buildings. The pond was being drained, it was and when I pulled up and went to where Lenny was standing, on the far side of the pond was a guy with a homemade spear made from a broomstick handle & coat hanger. He was trying to spearing fish and was actively going after a big white and black koi. I yelled across and told him to F-off and he sort of looked back like what are you going to do. I gave him the same look back and he decided to wander off. I had my net and barrel, and started casting and pulled in 3 koi.

Within 2 days, we had the volunteer group back out there and were dragging the pond to pull out the koi. The state laws prohibit the transportation or posession of live sport fish (like bluegill and bass) so we can't rescue them, also putting them in another water system could transmit diseases and stuff so it is not a good idea regardless. We were able to have the herpetological society come out and pickup the sport fish. They rescue reptiles, and used the sport fish to feed the reptiles, and they literally have hundreds of them including tons of turtles, something like 20 alligators & crocodiles.

The local pet shops do not accept koi and they had heard about the rescuing, so they would refer people to us. So I started getting regular calls, about once every other week, sometimes more than that.