Cold advice for a warm season? yeah, probably...


I've sort of developed an almost "Tony Robins-esque" (eww) personality of being everyone's aquarium-keeping confidant over the years. I know a lot of you turn to me for advice, discussion...a shoulder to cry on...and for stuff for your aquariums, too (well, that's a good thing!). Like Mary Poppins, most of my advice is dispensed with a "spoonful of sugar", and it goes down fairly easily, if not, on occasion, controversially.

Lately, however, I've taken a somewhat more "realistic" approach to the hobby, realizing that sugar-coating our own follies and giving the typical warm fuzzy isn't always what you need. I realized, both in my personal practice, and in the "advice" I've been dispensing to fellow hobbyists of late, that I've had to take a more pragmatic approach to really do everyone some good.

So the tone of this piece might be a bit more ahem, "blunt" than what you're used to from me. On the other hand, it's formulated to be helpful, not patronizing, and that means we sometimes all have to get some "tough love" in order to progress in the hobby. It's a distillation of advice sifted from a whole lot of emails and phone calls I've received over the past few months, peppered with a sprinkling of recent personal experience and practice.


I think it might help some of us. It might tick off some of us, too. It might be typical easily digested "Fellman-Fluff", and that's good, also! So here is some of my better advice, and I think much of it is worth at least pondering"

If it’s dying- get it out of the tank…Yeah- that sounds bad, and it almost sounds like I’m endorsing a euthenasia of sorts.. In the coral farming game, if you have a struggling frag that might have flatworms, red bugs, or some other perf, you cant risk letting it take down other frags. And its the same in a display freshwater tank, IMHO. Ditch dying plants, etc. You HAVE to. ’The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one…” (OMG did I just quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek? Yeah, I did.)

Keep some “negative space” in the rock and wood work your tank. Not just for aquascaping…I mean, yes, you should have some open space not covered by rocks and wood. Why? For several reasons. One, it gives your plants a chance to spread out and grow. Second, it DOES have a good aesthetic thing going for it…We all like to allow our eyes a place to rest from the busy “fruit-stand” appearance of a typical packed aquarium. And finally, having some extra space gives you room to…expand your collection! Yeah, that’s right..I said it! You can have some room for future impulse buys! A salute to consumerism (and of course, a tip of the hat to my fellow aquatic vendors!).

Ditch really bad ideas…quickly. Yup, kind of like the Facebook corporate mantra of “move fast and break things”, I think it’s time we let stuff go that doesn’t work. Life it too short. I am not saying to disregard patience (Lord knows, I’ve written a ton about that over the past few years right in this forum). All I’m saying is that you need to let go of ideas that simply aren’t working out, taxing time, energy, money, space, and “mind power.” Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all…but better to let something that was failing die a quick death than to have it function as a “black hole” of your hobby energy (and budget!). Harsh words coming from me, but they’re true. If it doesn’t work- Kill it. KILL IT! 

Seek advice and counsel from other hobbyists, but don’t talk anyone’s word as THE ultimate. Because the reality is, there is plenty to learn in this hobby from a lot of people. There are people out there in Aquarium-Keeping Land doing stuff you never even heard of, and maybe they are having great results. Does that mean you should listen to everything they say and try to replicate their efforts, or embrace all of their philosophies? Of course not. No way. Take everything- from everyone- in this hobby- with a grain of salt. Learn to evaluate aquarium keeping strategies in the context of “Will this work for ME?” Far better than to just blindly follow ANYONE. 

If you want something on your tank done right…do it…the right way? Yeah. Doesn’t matter if you’re the guy doing it, or if you hire someone else. Just make sure it’s done correctly. I’ve seen so many people put time and effort into aquatic projects that were not only doomed to fail, but they simply couldn’t work by virtue of design, function, or even budget. This sort of dovetails with my third point about killing bad ideas…Okay, it’s an addendum, really: If you’re not going to do something the right way, just don’t bother. Really. It sounds negative, I know- but you’ll be much happier in the long run, trust me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard aquarists tell me that “(Insert product here) doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. It sucks.” Upon further investigation, it turns out that the aquarist was using the product, but either not in the correct manner, or only part of it. If you’re using a regimen or system that needs to have multiple components or systems working together, use them! You can’t expect a complete result out of a partial effort.

Today’s _____ slap of cold reality, courtesy of your local aquarium-keeping enfant terrible.!

Enjoy the rest of your day, have some fun…and above all-

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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