My fish are at the surface gasping for air? What to do?

If your fish are at the surface gasping for air you need to apply the following emergency first aid immediately, then figure out what caused this condition and fix it long term.

The fish need highly oxygenated water quickly.

Do this by turning on a hose or any other water pump and spraying the water up in the air so it gets oxygenated then lands in the pond. If you have a waterfall or fountain, turn it on and leave it on until the crisis is past. Add Stresscoat if its on hand.

If the pond is a large earthen pond, use the biggest pump you can get your hands on and spray water over the pond.  If you do not have a second water source, its ok to pump the water from the pond.


If it’s possible to also do a water change, do as deep a water change as you can.  If you are using chlorinated public water supply and do not have any dechlor handy, don’t change more than 10%.

If you are using groundwater or have dechlorinator handy, drain the pond down til the fish’s fins are starting to stick out of the water.  If your source of water is more than say 10 degrees different in temperature, so the water change over a several hour period.

If you have koi and  this is happening in the early spring, try to avoid netting and removing them from the pond unless you have another pond of better / safer water quality all ready for them to go into.  This time of year koi are just coming out of winter hibernation and their immune system is very fragile.  Netting and moving them would just add to their stress.


Review site conditions and get some test kits to find out what caused the sudden loss of oxygen.

If its hot weather and there is excessive algae, plus the weather has been cloudy, dead organics are probably the culprit and added oxygen will be needed until this is digested.  For earthen ponds, consider getting a bottom aeration system.

The above type of oxygen problem usually does not develop in lined ponds with a 24/7 pumping/filtration system running.

In lined ponds the problem more likely is an unexpected sudden overload of nutrients from storm water runoff, grossly overfeeding by’ helpful’ visitors, or a fish disease/ parasite infestation.  Water changes will help the first two issues.  Close examination of the ailing and or dead fish, (post mortem) is  needed for the later problem.  Get professional help if you suspect a fish disease or parasite.  Look up your local koi club or consult one of the on line fish health sites such as

If you used too much  Algaway 5.4 or AlgaeFix for the size of the pond and /or you did not keep your waterfall/filtration system going, this can lead to oxygen depletion.

If you had a massive algae bloom and treated it all at one time with any algaecide, the dieing algae can consume all the oxygen.

So, there can be many reasons why you had the problem and once you get past the crisis you can take the time to find out why it happened and how to prevent it from reoccurring.

But your first priority is to get some oxygenated water going to buy you some time until you can solve the underlying problem and the hose sprayed in the air over the pond will do just that.


Zombie Winter Algae won’t die.

Do you have zombie winter algae that refuse to die even though you have treated it?

Winter algae can begin to appear when the water reaches 45 degrees.  But, the beneficial bacterias that fight algae do not become effective until the water reaches 50 degrees.  In that 45 to 50 degree temperature range, the algae grows freely.  In warmer waters, the bacteria in the bio filter, the cultured bacteria such as Microbelift PL and PBL and the natural barley straw, do a great job.  But at these low temperatures, only the low temp bacteria such as Microbelift Autumn Winter Prep are active.

Many people resort to an emergency first aid for the algae by using algacides.  Hopefully they at least use the environmentally friendly algacides such as Green Clean and Algaway 5.4.    In warm water Green Clean usually works over night and Algaway 5.4 works within 2 to 3 days.  Results are frequently not as stellar in cold water. Why?

Why indeed?  Think of it this way.  If you go out to your garden in the summer and cut off lettuce, the cut lettuce is definitely dead.  Put the lettuce out in the sun on the picnic table and within hours it will wilt, turn brown and curl up, almost gone.  Now take that same piece of dead lettuce and put it in your refrigerator.  There, it is still dead, but it will stay green and crisp for several weeks.

So, even if you kill your winter algae in refrigerator cold water, it will still stay green and life like for several more weeks.

What to do?  One product that will block the growth of algae regardless of temperatures is Microbelift Barley Straw Extract. This works regardless of temperatures.  Another approach is pond dye.  Both Microbelift Bio Blue and Bio Black, added to the pond before the algae appear, will block algae growth.  The downside to the dyes is that they will also block your view of your fish.

There is an up side to winter filamentous algae.  Algae is a perfect spring food for your koi.  High in vitamins, low in hard to digest protein.  A true Popeye Spinach for your sleepy koi.  Later in the season they will turn up their noses at such fare.  But in the spring when they are very hungry, (and you are not yet feeding them, please) they will readily nibble algae.

Late winter pond chores: clean up pond side debris

Clean up pond side winter debris.

Those first few warm days at the end of winter are a good time to get started on a great pond season.  But  it is way to early to be working in the water where it will disturb the still sleeping koi.

This is a great time to rake up the late fall leaves and twigs.  I clean up most of the leaf fall in the Fall.  But, our willow tree holds its leaves late, and then drops them plus a zillion little twigs throughout the winter.  So in those first warm days, when I’m itching to get out there and get something done, I clean up this debris.

This helps the koi pond as it keeps the March winds from blowing debris into the pond where it only contributes to the ponds organic loading.  Those leaves that do get in, I will digest with Microbe-lift Spring Summer Cleaner once the water gets to 50 degrees.  But the willow twigs will need to be mechanically removed.  That means me wading waist deep into the water and collecting them with a grass rake.  Its an OK chore on a hot summer day.  Not something I want to do in cold water.  So, the less leaves and twigs that go into the pond, the easier all around.

So I do the late winter clean up and it has  become one of my savored rights of spring.  I rake then up and burn them in an old washtub placed on the the pea graveled shore.  I enjoy being outside after the long winter indoors.  And, the warmth of the little fire feels great.  Reminds me of camping.

Ice fishing in Maryland? Does that work?

Out riding my horse Colbert  in the woods today I came upon the oddest sight.  There, out on the ice of a  the little half acre pond sat a man on a little stool….. fishing.  I did a double take.  I’ve seen pictures of folks ice fishing up north, for pike and muskies.  But I’ve never seen anyone ice fish around here in Maryland.  I don’t even try to ‘wet’ water fishing around here to Aprilish as the only thing I know that feeds this early are the rock fish in Liberty.  My experience has been that the bass and sunnies are not going to be biting until the water gets up in the 50 more or less.  I ask him if he had caught any and he said he had gotten a few little ones.  He was too far away to talk to him much, and his dog was barking at my horse, so I did not get to ask what kind of fish he got.

Years ago that shallow pond had sunnies and a few juvenile bass.  We use to take our daughter there to fish back when she was 5 and loved to fish.  She caught a couple of little bass on spinner baits when she was just learning to cast.  Lucky girl.  She is 17 now and fishing is not cool. In dry years, it gets so shallow that the herons fish it out pretty well.  It had gotten quite shallow last summer in the drought, so I’m surprised there are any fish there at all this winter.

So, I’m pondering on this.  Does anybody you know ice fish in Maryland and if so where do they go, what bait do they use and what do they catch?  I’d like to give it a try next year if I could do so safely.

How loud are aerators? Ask your phone.

Sound Meter on my Droid

The Vertex Aerators are some of the most quiet on the market, but they do hum.  The statistics show that Vertex Aerators run around 60 decibels but what does that mean?  Well, its about the same loudness as normal conversation, but people don’t hum often so that is not very helpful.

Here is a great way to find out for yourself just how loud 60 decibels would be if you have a Droid phone.  My husband just showed me this App and it is so cool and its free.  It’s called ‘Sound Meter’ and the ‘lite ‘ version is a free download.  Just download this cool app and then walk around household appliances and you will get to sample what runs around 60 decibels.  Try it on your heat pump, they are usually just a little noisier than a Vertex.

Don’t feed the beggars during this Mid Winter Thaw!

Ah, the mid winter thaw.  It’s like spring time out there.  The birds are singing.  One corner of my pond actually has some open water.  It on days like this that can bring your koi to the surface looking for food.  They are hungry.  They have not eaten all winter.  Please please feed us they say.

Don’t do it.  Or put another way, don’t do it!  Mid winter feedings can pr0ve deadly. Sure its warm today.  Maybe spring is here early.  The groundhog did not see his shadow in PA this month.  But, its more than likely just a little teaser of spring to come.  Next week there could be a blizzard, or at least more of the same frigid weather we’ve been having since December.

If you feed your koi now, the food will be in their digestion system for several days.  If the weather turns cold again before it is completely digested, the digestive processes will grind to a halt.  There it will lie and molder, releasing toxins, until the weather again warms up.  This can be deadly for your fish.  And it will be a slow agonizing death.  Your fish will look normal until the pond warms up, then one by one they will sicken and some will die.  At that point it is generally too late to help them.

So, be mean, ignore the little beggars, do not feed them.  Let them graze the mid winter algae that has suddenly sprouted up in your pond.  That is a better safer course of action.  Resist feeding the little cuties until your water lilies start to grow and then just feed them cold water feeds that are high in wheat germ such as Microbelift Living Legacy Wheat Germ Feed.