The "(Re) Learning Curve..."

As you may know by now, I’m one of those totally geeked-out hobbyists who plays with both fresh and saltwater. I’m even more weird, because I own a company in each “medium”- Unique Corals sells marine livestock, and Tannin Aquatics sells “aquatic botanicals” and other products geared towards a specialized freshwater crowd.


I’d say that I’m fairly in tune with the hobby and the market.

So I’m knee deep in planning my next aquarium, and exploring the myriad of options out there for equipment and such. This one will be a reef. It’s actually the first brand new personal saltwater tank I’ve done in several years, other than a really cool freshwater hardscape in my office and a cool tank at home, so I’m actually a bit “rusty” on some of the equipment choices…I guess being in my “livestock bubble” at Unique Corals for the past 3 years has left me a bit  myopic and hyper focused on one aspect of the reef aquarium hobby. I can tell you all about what coral comes from where and grows in such-and-such a fashion, and what kinds of water parameters are best for growth, blah, blah…I use that knowledge daily. But when it comes to the “latest and greatest” hardware, I’m a bit…humbled.

Oh sure, I’m up on the latest technology and concepts,  and I know who makes what,  but if you ask me who makes the best protein skimmer or LED light, and why, I might not have a tremendous depth to my answer. I know what works for us on a commercial level, and these are dramatically different products than I’d use on my home system. “I know what I know”, I suppose…

Staring at manufacturer’s websites and reading about “bluetooth-enabled" this-and-that made my head spin. Honestly. I mean, somewhere along the line, super high technology just settled into the reef keeping game- and the freshwater game, too- for the betterment of the hobby. But wow, in just a few years, things have changed a LOT! Seems like you have to be an expert at things like computers, cell phones, and home electronics just to grasp how some of this stuff works and what it actually can do!

It was kind of…well- humbling… Made me realize that, even after a lifetime in the aquarium hobby, you simply can’t know everything there is to know. Sometimes, you DO need to rely on “experts” in other aspects of the aquarium field. 

And there’s really nothing wrong with that!

Just a couple of days ago, a buddy and I ran out to our favorite LFS for the time-honored tradition of looking for fish for our (freshwater) aquariums. My friend was looking for Tetras and livebearers, and I was focused on finding a pair of Apistogramma. When we were browsing the FW section, we had more than just a working knowledge of these fishes, but the reality was that we were woefully “out of practice”, so to speak, on some of the finer points of fish morph ID, etc. We did what everyone does- we relied on the guys at the shop to steer us in the right direction! And it was a great experience!

Freshwater is no different to me than the hyper-focusing we do in reef keeping on things like Acros, Zoanthids, and Chalices. You just need to listen, learn- immerse yourself in the “culture” a bit. When haunting some of the planted tank forums and specialty discussion groups (like cichlids, livebearers, and killies), I often come to the realization that there is so much knowledge out there that it’s almost impossible to absorb it all. Everyone thinks that reef people are so sophisticated (trust me, I can prove otherwise in many cases!). However, I am frequently blown away by the sophistication of the planted tank people…I mean, it makes running a reef tank look comparatively simple. And you people who breed some of the crazier cichlids and catfishes- you’re on a whole different level.

It’s all amazing, IMHO.

In addition to being humbled by the awesome amount of “stuff” there is to know in the aquarium world, I was struck by a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in years…It’s fun to learn about all of these new (to me) things. For everyone- there are products, procedures, trends, and “experts” in specialty areas of the hobby that are completely unknown to us before we jump in…how cool is that? These people have decades of experience with say, South American Cichlids- or even more obscure- the genus Amphilophus, for example. Etc., etc., etc. To know what they know, you simply have to DO stuff for a long time…Or ask those who know and LISTEN- then do your own followup research-Just like in the reef world. Sure, you can learn a lot by reading, and more by asking-but in the end, you have to DO stuff in order to get the valuable experience. You can literally spend a lifetime trying new stuff in the aquarium hobby!

You’ll see us “enabling” fellow aquarists over the coming months with new concepts- like paludariums. ripariums, etc.- things that will challenge the skills we’ve developed in our “fish careers”, and compelling us to acquire and develop new ones!

My advice, if you find yourself in a “fish rut”, looking for something to get you mentally “back in the game?” Do something, anything- that gets you mentally engaged in a new aspect of the hobby. Do some research, seek out advice of others with experience in those fields, and then…to coin a phrase from an old Nike campaign- Just DO It.

With an almost infinite amount of stuff to learn, and enormous resources at our fingertips, including friendly, experienced hobbyists-there has never been a better time to embark on new journeys in the aquarium hobby. Yes, the usual caveats about taking people’s advice with a grain of salt apply, but with the proper attitude, and the willingness to be humble and “new” at something again, the possibilities for enjoyment in the aquarium hobby are as vast as the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world.

Think about it.

Have a great week, play with your fishes, spend time with your families..

And stay wet!




Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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