The one that got away: a Middleburg family finds one of their koi fish lost in Hurricane Irma

Many folks in Middleburg are still getting rid of of items destroyed by Hurricane Irma. But as First Coast News' Jeff Valin reports, one woman there is trying to get one particular possession back.

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. -- Little Bo Peep lost her sheep; Laura Irish of Middleburg lost her koi fish.

You won't believe how she found one of them.

In some ways, it's another story stemming from Hurricane Irma, but it really starts about five years ago. Laura and her husband Joel have lived on their Scenic Drive property for about eight years. After nearly losing their house to Tropical Storm Debbie in June 2012, they decided to build a new, higher house on the same parcel, which backs out onto Black Creek.

"Built this house a lot higher, probably six feet higher," as Laura began the story on Friday, talking with First Coast News.

The couple currently has four hens, three dogs, and a rescue cat, but their menagerie expanded less than a year ago after they discovered a natural spring next to their driveway. They decided to build a koi pond, knowing the constant flow of pristine water would mean added beauty with minimal maintenance, eventually stocking the pond - complete with waterfall - with 17 koi fish and a turtle.

"Super healthy," she described the fish, "I mean, most of them are about this big," she said, holding her hands about a foot apart.

Then came Irma. Laura figured that the creek would rise.

It did, not just the roughly 14 feet to the driveway and koi pond, but another 9 feet, almost enough to reach the sub-floor of the elevated home.

"Part of our prep was to put a net over my koi pond," Laura said, having figured the netting would keep the fish and turtle in their home.

It didn't. Several days after the water ebbed, the Irishes removed the debris-laden mesh.

"So, finally we managed to get the net off and looked in. And, nothing, nothing left," she said with a sigh.

All seemed lost. In this rural area where mountains of waterlogged possessions still line the road, awaiting pickup, it's hard to figure that any of the fish would have survived wherever nature left them. It's unfathomable to imagine that any would have been found, but one of them was, several days later, when a friend came by.

"He goes, 'You're not going to believe this but there's a koi in a swimming pool two blocks over.' And I said, 'That's got to be my koi'," Laura said.

Indeed the koi had somehow floated and swum across at least a quarter-mile of road, forest, and other waterways, ending its hurricane-driven journey inside the in-ground pool at a home on Laurel Road.

Laura and Joel know the family who lives at that home. "So, we went and looked at it, and sure enough it was Dreamsicle," she said, identifying the fish by name.

Given the seeming odds against the discovery, perhaps that name ought to be Miracle by now. But in the weeks since then the Irishes have found themselves fighting the surprisingly tough odds of getting Dreamsicle out of the pool. That's because, since the hurricane, the water in the pool has come to more closely resemble a natural pond, tinged brown by tannins of leaves and other natural debris, a semi-opaque in the shallow end yielding to a black murk in the deep end. Dreamsicle has preferred to hide there, only occasionally coming into view with the lure of food.

"We had somebody in the water trying to get it with a pool net," Laura said. "We had somebody cast netting."

Even during our visit, Dreamsicle made a cameo appearance, only to dart away when Laura tried to gently coax her in to a swimming pool scoop net. Laura also pointed to a makeshift dragnet they had built.

"So we could just drag it along the bottom, so [the fish] would go to the shallow end, so we could catch her more easily," Laura said. "Well, she was too smart for us."

We even suggested a strategy of 'catch-and-relocate,' using a rod, reel, and bait. Laura seemed open to the idea if it doesn't hurt the fish. After all, the fish isn't out of danger - Laura said her neighbor actually shot a snake that was in the water so it wouldn't eat Dreamsicle. Also, because the pool apparently sits atop a subterranean artesian well, draining the pool to access the elusive fish might not be an option.

Laura isn't obsessing about it, she said but admits that Dreamsicle, the lost-and-found koi, has become a white whale of sorts for her.

"Maybe even a fisherman or something that could capture that fish. I don't know!"

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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