TAMPA, Fla. - Francis Harrelson Jr. is fascinated by koi and his passion for the exotic fish led him to create a tropical escape every time he enters his backyard.
"Frankly, I just love fish," he shared. "I love my backyard patio because it's a nice relaxing atmosphere…it makes you feel like you're definitely in the tropics."
Like many collectors of tropical fish, his first tank was a standard size.
"I started out with an 8 x 10 (tank) with about a dozen to 15 koi," Harrelson said.
But as he raised them, he realized that none of the fish could grow to their full size or potential.
"You have to have above 1,500 gallons of water," he explained.
That’s why he created a ‘patio paradise’. He says it took two months of trial and error to complete, but he's satisfied with the result.
"This is a one-of-a-kind piece," he explained. "I've just created an environment where I just love it back here... You can see my Koi pond from the street."
Once the new environment was built, Harrelson moved his koi into their new home and began working to collect more.
"I started rescuing koi. (They came from) people who were giving up their ponds for some reason," he said.
Harrelson stopped stocking the 2,600-gallon tank once he hit 65 fish.
"Some of them are rescues," he shared. "I've got other fish that are pristine... It's coming into Koi heaven."
But the larger environment and the additional fish meant additional care and a drastic learning curve.
"The good thing about koi is that you don't have to worry about the temperature of the water," he said. "So, the winter months here are not an issue regardless of how cold Tampa's mild winter gets.
Water quality is his primary concern.
"Four years ago the city did something to the water," he recalled. "The city did something and (they) put a lot of chlorine or something in the water and it ended up wiping out about half of my fish."
Ever since then, he gets a water quality notification to be ahead of those types of incidents.
"They are extremely relaxing to look at," he admitted. "If I ever have one of those stressful days or my wife has a stressful day, you just come out here and hang out in my back yard for a little while and you can tell it's meant to make you feel better... Therapy is a good word."
As he got to know the koi better, they got to know him better as well.
"Koi fish are actually a carp...They live a long time...The koi like to see things, they like to see out," he stated with a smile. "They get to know you."
Harrelson doesn't breed or sell the koi.
"For me, they're like pets," he said. "The only thing that I'm into is the pleasure that they give me by watching them swim effortlessly. I love it. It's a hobby that I love to do and be a part of...absolutely"
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