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My friend talks about her fish coming up to eat from her hand. How can I get my fish to do the same? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My friend talks about her fish coming up to eat from her hand. How can I get my fish to do the same?

Q: My friend talks about her fish coming up to eat from her hand. How can I get my fish to do the same?

Donna – Chesterfield, MO

A: Talk about a cool party trick! Feeding by hand is not only a fun way to show your friends how well-trained your fish are, but it also gives you an opportunity to bond with your finned pals.

Teaching your fish how to eat from your hand starts with understanding the temperament of the fish themselves. Are your fish friendly? Do they swim up and say “Glub, glub, hi!” when you visit your pond? Or do they scatter when you approach and your shadow falls on the water?

Friendly fish are easier to train. They already associate you as an approachable face that brings them tasty food every day. Sketchy fish, however, can be more of a challenge. They might be newbies that don’t recognize you or your feeding routine, or they might be spooked from predators visiting your pond.

If you’ve ruled out the possibility of predators (or put up some predator-control measures), follow these steps to help teach your fish to eat from the palm of your hand:

    1. Set a Routine: Fish are creatures of habit. They’re more likely to respond to something that happens the same way every day (or frequently, at least). To set a mealtime routine, visit your pond at the same location, at the same time of day, on a regular basis. They’ll get to know your patterns and learn to recognize you – and feeding time.
    2. Make Them Work: Throwing a handful of Growth & Vibrance Fish Food into the water and walking away teaches your fish an easy snatch-and-run feeding style. Instead, toss them a few pellets at a time and wait for the fish to eat them. They’ll rush to get the food first! Even the shy koi will get in on the action. This toss-and-wait style reminds them that you are hanging out and something exciting is happening.
    3. Get Brave – and Get Wet: Once your fish are used to your feeding routine and race to the pond’s edge to greet you, take the plunge! Hold a few pellets loosely in your hand just at the water surface without making any sudden or quick movements. It takes only one fish to act bravely and let the others know it’ll be OK. Before you know it, they’ll be racing to your hand to be fed!

Once your fish are trained to eat from your hand, you’ll be tempted to keep offering them food. Prevent overfeeding them by measuring out a predetermined amount of food – and stop when it’s all gone. If you can’t help yourself (or you’re sharing this cool new party trick with your friends), at least be sure to have some natural bacteria, like Nature’s Defense®, on hand to help clean up the leftovers after dinner.

Pond Talk: Have you trained your fish to eat from your hand? What tips can you share with this fish keeper?

Complete Koi & Goldfish Diet - The Pond Guy® Growth & Vibrance Fish Food

16 Responses

  1. My koi have always eaten from my hand, but now they won’t. Could it be something other than a predator?

    • Hi Pat – Have you switched fish foods or your feeding routine? Also other factors such as water temperature or water quality may also play a role with the warmer weather we’ve been having.

  2. Does anyone feed their Koi treats, such as fruits or vegetables? I’ve read they like grapefruit. Is this true?

    • Hi Nancy – We’ve used apples, watermelon and oranges. I’ve heard that koi like the grapefruit even better!

  3. I have 24 Koi and they actually come when I call them (it’s dumb I know but I call here fish, fish, fish )and they literally stampede over it other in an effort to get to the feeding spot first. We feed in one spot from a bridge and I trained them to eat from my hand by giving them a treat of dehydrated krill which is larger than pellet food and which they absolutely adore. While they eat I extend my hand and can stroke them which many seem to really like. The kids in my neighborhood love to feed them by hand once they learn they have no teeth and cannot bite. The kids have a great experience, my fish are extremely happy and I get to enjoy it all. By the way when we restart feeding in the spring after the long winter hiatus they NEVER forget the routine. I must have really smart fish!

    • Hi Andrea – Fish, especially koi, love to get extra treats! Thanks for the comment.

  4. Our goldfish are happy in the 700 gallon backyard pond we have. They are fed twice a day as much as they will eat in 5 minutes. Although the exact time of feeding varies they know we are coming because I turn the filter/fountain off from the switch in the house. By the time I reach the pond the surface is boiling with orange and white and black bodies. They are happy to feed from our hands or the water. Having the water surface still makes it easier for them to find the food. The pump is re-started after feeding. My only regret in ‘taming’ them was the losses to the local herons. Netting has solved that problem and we are all happy. The herons will have to dine elsewhere.

  5. As a reminder; Don’t tap side of pond or make swishing in water gestures as raccoons will do so Also hoping to hornswoggle a fishy prize for copying you. I guess my koi might be smarter than some because when I started feeding this Spring, the big lady koi(the only one brave enough, consistantly) who will eat from my fingers under water came to my fingers looking/sucking for food, right quick, and they hadn’t been fed since Fall. Less than 5 minutes, from about 6 months .

  6. This article is exactly right. Routine is the basis. I began by a feeding routine. I would put my hand in the water where the fish food was and stay there for 5 or so minutes. It takes patience. Now where ever I put my hand some of them will come up to it whether I have food or not.

  7. My older gold fish (12 years old) will eat out of my hand. The younger and smaller ones are not so brave yet. One fish with a short tail is very tame. If I walk up to the pond and call them, come on fish, they will respond and come to the surface . I have enjoyed my fish very much. Have purchased my my filtering system from The Pond Guy. The pump for air with the air stones, though, is my all time favorite and also my fish seem to like it .
    KA. Virginia

    • Thanks for the comment Kay, keep trying and I bet those little ones will catch on soon!

  8. One more bit of advice. Once you have trained them you need to keep feeding them by hand. If you let a few weeks go by without hand-feeding you will have to train them all over again. They have really short memories.

    • Thanks for the tip Paul – From my experience Koi retain their memory and goldfish will fall back to their routine sooner but in either case stay consistent!

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