The Orfe (Leuciscus idus) is a fish of the carp family, native to Northern Europe and Asia and usually found in clean rivers and lakes. It is fairly large, about 30-45cm/12-18", active and fast moving. The wild type is silver with red fins and is known as the Ide, but the golden ornamental type is much more common and is known as the Golden Orfe. All forms of orfe have a slender shape, pointed snout, small scales and large eyes. The mouth is large, slightly upturned and has no barbels. As they get larger and older, they often develop a humped back and become slower moving, but a large orfe is still a magnificent fish.
The Golden Orfe is usually pinkish yellow in colour, sometimes with dark markings on the back. The Blue Orfe has a pale blue back and a white underside and fins. It also often has dark speckles on the head and back. Its colour may fade to white as it grows larger. The subtle colours Of the Blue Orfe can only really be appreciated in crystal clear water. The White Orfe is occasionally seen among blue or golden ones, and it is white with a few dark markings on the back. Rarest of all is the Koi Orfe, which has a blue back, white underside and fins, and orange patches. I have only ever seen it once.
I think the orfe is the most graceful and one of the most beautifully coloured of all pond fish. Even its face is perfect, with large eyes and a neat pointed snout. A large shoal of small orfe will give an incredible display of synchronised swimming, forming whirlpools of golden or silver fish. As a northern European species, they are used to cold weather and will remain active and feeding through most of the winter. But in nature, every rose has its thorn, and the orfe can be delicate, accident-prone and demanding. Although it is very often sold, it is a fish for the experienced fishkeeper.
The orfe needs clean cool water with a good oxygen content. It is much more fussy about water quality than the goldfish and carp, and may need extra aeration during hot weather. It needs a lot of space as it is very active and grows large. A large pond is also less likely to overheat in the summer.
As the orfe is a shoaling fish, it needs to be kept in a group of at least three.
It has a habit of jumping out of the water. This happens more when the water quality is poor, but can happen at any time. If orfe are kept in a tank or raised pond, it must be covered to stop them from jumping out.
It will eat small fish that fit in its mouth, and it has a surprisingly large mouth. It can choke on spiny fish such as sticklebacks and small catfish.
The orfe can be sensitive to medications and chemical treatments, so if you are using any treatments in your pond, make sure they are suitable for use with orfe.
A common disorder among orfe is bending of the spine. The fish may become 'banana-shaped' or develop kinks in its body, usually near the tail. This condition usually happens suddenly to a previously healthy fish and can be caused by some medications, some garden chemicals, rough handling or thunderstorms. It is not treatable, but the fish can sometimes lead a fairly normal life if it is not too deformed.
The orfe is mainly a surface feeder and needs a good quality floating food. It would naturally eat insects, worms, crustaceans, small fish and other small animals. Large ones will even eat frogs and small birds. Orfe do not generally eat plants. Unlike some other pond fish, they will feed through most of the winter.
Re-homing - golden and blue are often available.
Aquatic shop - golden and blue are often available, make sure they are healthy.
Specialist dealer - for rare varieties.
A beautifully coloured Golden Orfe
Small Golden Orfe. They are usually sold at this size.
A pair of Koi Orfe. These are the only Koi Orfe I have ever seen.