STILLWATER — Cowboy memorabilia isn’t the only profitable orange-and-black merchandise coming out of Stillwater.
At Kleinholz Koi Farm, a family-run operation a few miles outside town, the inventory is brightly colored domesticated carp that often are seen in ponds or water gardens. Although they can be a variety of colors, many are a shiny orange.
Multiple factors determine the price of koi, which can vary widely. Some fish sell for as little as 50 cents; others can bring thousands of dollars.
The chief fish wrangler, Conrad Kleinholz, is an aquaculture professor at Langston University.
“I have been a fish guy forever,” he said.
He sold tropical fish for extra money in high school and college, and eventually began studying them. After raising fish for most of his life, he started raising koi “accidentally,” he said.
In the early 1990s, Kleinholz was working with aquaculture extension and agreed to help some koi hobbyists whose fish were sickly and wouldn’t reproduce. After some testing, the group realized the water had been contaminated. He helped them clean the ponds and create an environment more conducive to spawning.
Kleinholz took some eggs back to his home, where he was already raising other types of fish. His wife persuaded him not to dispose of the eggs, which led to their first batch of koi.
Most koi operations are run by koi hobbyists or aquaculture specialists, Kleinholz said. His operation is successful because it features both. Hobbyists sometimes don’t know how to breed without unintended consequences, and aquaculturists sometimes don’t recognize the traits needed for valuable fish, he said.
Although hampered by the recent drought, the operation has been expanding.
“When it rains, we’re gold,” Kleinholz said. “When it doesn’t, we’re lead.”
In March, Kleinholz bought another plot of land in Sulphur.
“We just plain outgrew what we had,” Kleinholz said.
Right now is spawning season, and a batch of eggs is expected to hatch Friday. Kleinholz clicked a mechanical pencil, pointed at the lead and said, “They’ll be about this length and half the diameter.”
By the time they are sold, most of them will be more than 30 inches long.