South Charlotte

Charlotte Pond Tour is about fish – not fishing

Don Penix throws food to the koi as his wife, Mary Ann Penix, and their dog, Shappa, a miniature Australian Shepherd, look on.
Don Penix throws food to the koi as his wife, Mary Ann Penix, and their dog, Shappa, a miniature Australian Shepherd, look on. MELINDA JOHNSTON

Mint Hill’s Don and Mary Ann Penix have 17 hungry mouths to feed each day.

The koi pond in their backyard features a variety of the large, colored fish that will eat out of their hand if they bend down far enough. They feed the fish officially twice a day, but Don says he can’t help but slip them a snack every now and then.

“During the day, if I’m passing by and they look like they are hungry, I’ll throw them a little food,” Don said.

The couple says the pond and accompanying pergola is a place of relaxation and peace after a long day.

The two had many long days before retirement. Don was an officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for 26 years, and Mary Ann was a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital for 31 years.

Protectors and caregivers by nature, the Penixes now spend their spare time caring for the fish and keeping them safe from herons, raccoons and other predators that might view the koi pond and nearby goldfish pond as an invite for a quick meal.

The couple shares its fish enthusiasm with the 40 or so other families who belong to the Piedmont Koi and Watergarden Society, a group that promotes appreciation for the hobby of keeping, breeding and exhibiting goldfish and koi.

The society meets the second Saturday of each month at different members’ homes to eat together and enjoy the ponds.

On June 20, the group will hold its third annual Charlotte Pond Tour.

The Penix pond is one of eight on the tour. Other locations include a pond in Albemarle, one in Charlotte, and five ponds in the Harrisburg area. Tickets for the tour are $5.

Society President Brannon Raines said the tour will be of interest to experienced koi keepers as well as those thinking about creating a pond.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to come out and see what the hobby is all about and enjoy the ponds, the plants and the fish,” said Raines, who lives in Harrisburg.

Don started construction on the koi pond soon after his retirement. He wanted to relocate two large koi that had outgrown the goldfish pond.

“When I started it, I had no plan. I just started building and this is what happened,” Don said.

Over the years they’ve added additional koi, plus one Irish Channel catfish that blends in with the rest.

While Don builds, Mary Ann plants. A couple dozen varieties of perennials are growing in and around the pond, and bonsai trees are scattered around the garden. Mary Ann quickly reels off names of the ones close by: creeping jenny, pitcher plant, water lily, pickerel rush, lizard’s tail, horsetail and even a Venus Flytrap floating in the water.

“I love working out here, and once you get all the plants in, it’s easy. They come back every year,” Mary Ann said.

The couple eats breakfast and dinner by the pond most days, and enjoys it for three seasons of the year. In winter, they cover it with netting to keep out leaves and predators.

The koi and goldfish winter at the bottom of their respective ponds and don’t eat during that time. Once the water starts to warm, the Penixes remove the net and begin feeding them.

They’ve watched the fish grow from 3 inches long to 18 inches or more. Don says he isn’t sure what they weigh but believes that a few would tip the scales at 20 pounds or more.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Melinda? Email her at

Want to go?

The 2015 Charlotte Pond Tour will start June 20 at AJ’s Restaurant, 5041 N.C. 49 in Harrisburg. Several tanks of koi will be on display.

Tours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Other starting ponds selling tickets are 28840 Hunters Lane in Albemarle and the Penix home at 14217 Clearvale Drive in Mint Hill. Addresses and maps for other ponds will be available at any starting pond.

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Koi rescue

The ponds and tanks of Carol Mathis, founder and director of the koi rescue group Koinetters, will also be on the tour, just off Rocky River Road North.

“I’ve kept koi for about 20 years, but founded the Koinetters five years ago when I saw the need,” said Mathis. “People were closing down their ponds and dumping their fish in the lakes and streams, and the fish were having to compete with the natural fish. We rescue the koi and help find them new homes.”

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