Who are your biggest aquarium hobby influences? Who influences your philosophy on fish keeping, breeding, etc?
You know, who influenced you the way Muddy Waters influenced Led Zeppelin, or the way Roxy Music influenced Duran Duran, or how Dr. Dre influenced 50 Cent, or...well, you get it?
Who were the aquarium hobbyists who made you want to do all the cool stuff that you do? The ones who paved the way, laid down the carpet, set up the groundwork of your hobby experience?
For me, growing up in a house full of guppy tanks (My dad was a big fancy guppy fan), the names that came up often were the legendary guppy breeders of the day- Paul Hahnel. His books were all over my dad's fish library, so it was only natural that I'd end up reading them as a kid.
And of course, there was the well-worn copy of the William T. Innes classic, "Exotic Aquarium Fishes"- the book that I literally read a thousand times...cover to cover. Memorized every species name, could quote some of his charming passages about their care, and about as esoteric and fish-geek-precious as his discussions on waking up very early in the morning to net Daphnia for fishes off of local ponds. I can still quote the passage that was the "mantra" for the working fish geek:
"Future generations may smile at our working hours, but this allows the tropical fish enthusiast to be at his salaried position by eight..."
I remember haunting the local pond, collecting fairy shrimp and mosquito larvae (which endeared me to my mom to no end) before school, inspired largely by that passage!
In fact, Innes' book had a great picture of one of my all-time favorite fishes, Crenuchus spilurus, the "Sailfin Characin", which I finally acquired after a lifetime in the hobby. It was a huge event for me...
And of course, there was the more contemporary "Exotic Tropical Fishes, the near-legendary reference work that was pretty much "standard issue" for the fish geek for decades...
My copies of these books were so beaten up that you could barely open them without pages falling out. I read 'em over and over and over...
These books, written decades before I was even born, were still the backbone of my "fishy education." And the interesting thing about these old books- and much of the advice preferred in them- is that they stand the test of time. Most of this stuff is fundamental husbandry and common-sense concepts related to the selection, care, and breeding of fishes.
Sure, some of the names have changed, and some things have become more normal, like breeding Discus, which in Innes' 1939 edition, was being hailed as one of the greatest tropical fish achievements in history..which, when you think of it...was true.
And then, there was the great Rosario La Corte- one of my favorite all time fish hobbyists. His little paperback book, "Enjoy The Tetras", is pretty much the "vector" for my lifelong love of these fishes.
He bred hundreds of species of fishes, wrote about them tirelessly in books and magazines, and freely shared his trials and tribulations in grand fish-geek style. I recall in 2012, I was in the New York area and was invited to a meeting of the Long Island Killifish Association, where he was there...At the time, I was pretty much at the top of my "Reef game", fish-geek-star wise, a featured speaker at every major reef conference, clubs worldwide, and an author in online media...Yet, I was absolutely like a 13 year old girl about to meet Justin Bieber! I remember how excited and nervous I was to meet the legend in the flesh.
And you know what? He didn't let me down. He was one of the nicest, most humble fish guys I ever met, and took the time to talk with me about who-knows-what (I think I must have simply repeated "I've read all of your books-like 20 times..." over and over again.), and lived up to his legendary status!
And of course, no other hobbyist, past or present, has ever had the amazing and complete influence on me that my father did. He literally started me with a bowl of fishes when I was 3, and I haven't looked back since. He passed away a few years back, but he influences me every single day.
In every field of endeavor, we have our influencers, thought leaders, and yes- legends. People who, through action and thought, have positively influenced the culture and technique of what we do. The tropical fish hobby is no different- except that at the end of the day, most of the key influencers and even the "legends" are gracious, humble, and just good-old fish geeks, like you and me. They have working fish rooms, spill water on the floor, and make all sorts of mistakes...and laugh about them!
Their work, their ideas..their legacy- serve to inspire and ignite our own dreams and efforts, and give context to our work. And they take the time to talk to you about it.
That's pretty cool, I think!
Never forget your influencers. Learn from them, question them...and do what they would expect of you- expand upon their work, push the limits...and share your experiences tirelessly.
Stay humble. Stay inquisitive. Stay respectful. Stay engrossed.
And Stay Wet.