7 Aquarium related things I SUCK at: A confessional.

suck (sək)  verb -  to be bad at a particular subject or action. (source- Online Slang Dictionary)


Ok, I’m man enough to admit this…

After literally a lifetime in the aquarium world, there are still some things that I’m flat-out afraid to do. Stuff that scares the daylights out of me.

Stuff that- well, let's just put it bluntly- I SUCK at.

Some of these are challenging tasks and hobby skills for almost anyone- others are seemingly mundane, easy for most, yet have hidden difficulties that can sink your whole project…yeah.

And others...well, others are just things that, for one reason or another- I can't do very well.

Now, I also admit that there are some hobby things I do exceedingly well.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, every once in a while it's therapeutic for me to pull the stuff I suck at out from under the metaphorical rug, stare at it and just shudder...

And there is a lot of it. Like, I had trouble narrowing it down to just 7 items (What 7? Supposedly some online content gurus say that 7 is like the optimum number of "points" for people to absorb in a blog. Whatever.)

Besides, you just can't read shit like this anywhere else on any other hobby blog or in any other article...Not that you'd want to, and not that any other author would want to write this kind of stuff, but hey...I'm keeping it real here! 

Here’s a list you can build on, I’m sure…(Well, I think I'm sure.)

So, in no particular order, here is my list of the top 7 aquarium-related things that I know I totally suck at; stuff that scares the proverbial crap out of me:

*Drilling aquariums- Glass, acryilc; doesn’t matter…The idea of taking a perfectly good aquarium, and using my extremely limited DIY skills to drill it out for a bulkhead, fitting- whatever, is a akin to performing an apendectomoy on myself…ain’t gonna happen. I have friends who think NOTHING about doing stuff like this...Me? No freaking way, man. Strictly for professionals, IMHO, with experience, skill, tools…and liability insurance!

Why do people take on this challenge? How do you people sleep at night? How do you ever go out of town without worrying about coming home to...well- the unthinkable? I mean, just the experience of installing and -gulp-tightening- a bulkhead into a hole drilled into my aquarium by someone else freaks me the *&%$ out! I mean- there's a LOT of water behind that bulkhead...

*"Automatic" water changing systems- If I had a dollar/euro/bitcoin/whatever for every person I know who’s had a nightmare failure (ranging from minor leaks, to full-on flooding of a friend's multimillion dollar Hollywood Hills home) caused by "automating" water changes, I wouldn’t be slinging botanicals for a living. It's like, would you build your own airplane from scratch? Would you?

Top off systems with limited reservoirs are one thing. Fully automated systems hooked up to water supplies and such are a whole different  kind of scary.The mere thought of installing such a system in my home makes me shudder. Like, just pick up a siphon hose and sleep better at night. Or when you're out of town. Who is so busy that they can't spend 15 minutes taking care of their aquarium, right? Besides, I love manual water changes. Really!


*Building my own aquarium stand- Seriously? Well, I- the guy who can't build a picture frame or assemble a piece of Ikea furniture without extra pieces left over, wouldn't even contemplate such an endeavor...and YOU shouldn't, either! Just fork over the money to a professional! Unless you have mad carpentry skills, this is another one that is just fraught with danger, IMHO.

I fully admire anyone who has those skills, and the courage to forge ahead on a project like that…and I will gracefully step aside and admire from afar. I mean, if you don’t get it perfectly right…flawlessly level...how long will it be until the inevitable disaster? 

*Plumbing- A HUGE one! Look, I’ve set up my Roku. Learned how to build an e-commerce website. Figured out how to make my own Pasta. I mix a mean Tanqueray and Tonic., etc.- but few things intimidate me like trying to plumb stuff like return pumps, overflows, and protein skimmers. As a reefer, you have to do a certain amount of plumbing...most of you hardcore, freshwater-only guys probably don't get this...However, it just goes with the territory in reef keeping.

And I suck at it.

On the other hand, I've learned a few "hacks"- workarounds, if you will- which allow me to skirt some of this stuff! Why do you think I love sump-based skimmers so much? Drop the Mother------s in and away you go!  Yup. Calcium reactors, an essential piece of reef gear, are another one of those “ white knuckle” devices that I have had mixed results with over the years!  I mean, you have CO2, a plastic reactor, lots of plumbing connections...a perfect recipe for disaster! Cannister filters push the "outside of the envelope" for me! LOL When I DO execute plumbing, even for stupidly simple stuff- it's usually so over-thought-out and SO overbuilt that it's sort of humorous!

*Retrofit Lighting Systems- Okay, I know I’m not alone in this one…Anything that involves wiring, light bulbs, and water is a recipe for problems in my book. I know a lot of you are pretty damn good at this stuff" "It's just twisting some wires and soldering a few connections..." Okay, yeah. Right. Death by electrocution or burning down the house both are sort of bad outcomes  in my book. To me, it makes a helluva lot more sense to pay the extra few bucks for the completed lighting system, right from the manufacturer. I love LED. At least with LED, you're way safer... I mean, I've dropped whole fixtures in the water before...(don't ask).

*Bagging fishes and corals- Okay, even though I was an owner of a company that sells corals and marine fishes, I suck at bagging them. I sucked at it as a kid when I worked at the LFS, and I still suck at it. Like, I have two left hands or something…That’s why I had people that are really skilled with rubber bands to do the job! I hate it so much you can't believe it. In fact, HATE isn't a strong enough word.

Back in my  days as co-owner of Unique Corals, we'd be at major reef hobby shows (MACNA, RAP, etc.), breaking down our booth after a weekend of sales- re-bagging the unsold corals for the flight home, and I'd just sort of wander off and engage in discussions with...well- ANYONE I could find- to avoid bagging up frags! The joke was that everyone knew it but were too kind to call me on my b.s., LOL.

And- I'm not proud of this- only admitting that I did it: On one occasion, a purposely let a minor cut on my finger bleed like mad, just so that I could demonstratively show everyone that I was in no condition to bag up corals...Yeah. I did. Never mind that I was the boss, but...Oh, I’m a demon on an impulse sealer or clip machine, but that is not quite as widely used..yet. So next time you see me at a show and need some help bagging stuff- I'll be the guy on the imaginary important business call- at 6 PM on a Sunday night...

Bagging fishes. Yuck. Hey, I’m honest- it’s the task I like the least in this industry. I suck. Bad.

*Netting fishes from a display tank- Sure, it’s a fundamental skill we all need. Knowing I have to net a fish out of my display tank strikes fear into my heart, as well as that of the fishes I’m trying to catch. I am the kind of aquarist that believes that nets are purposely designed to snag on everything and not catch fishes. And I never, EVER have the right-sized one for the job at hand available...Not that having the "right" net would result in a different sort of outcome, however... I even suck at netting out fishes in a bare holding tank. If I killed 3 fishes to get one of the 8 specimens the customer wanted, that was like a pretty damn good day!

I was literally the guy at the LFS that would be like,  "Do you really want THAT Tiger Barb? He looks kind of sick."  (Said while pointing to a perfectly healthy specimen. Yeah, I was evil. Well, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, right?) At home,  I fare no better, mind you. It pretty much always results in a wrecked aquascape, frayed nerves, and some seriously stressed-out fishes. I’ve found that, in recent years, I’m actually getting worse at this. Or so I tell myself. I don’t know if my "skills" have deteriorated in recent years, or if I just never had ‘em..hmm?

Wait. Don't answer that.

Well, that's the brief run-down of aquarium-related stuff I suck at. Stuff I'm horrified of. It felt good to get those off my chest. Very therapeutic! And that represented some core aquarium-related skills, huh? Oh, there are plenty of other hobby-related things I suck at, trust me…and that could conceivably fill a book…hmm, nothing to be proud of, really, but hey, I own 'em!

 Anyways, I shared mine- let’s hear some of yours!

Never be afraid to laugh at your own foibles. Stay humorous. Stay dedicated to the craft. Stay sharp. Stay AWAY from stuff that could destroy life, ego, and property. Double down on what you're good at. Stay confident. 

Stay afraid of some stuff.


And always- Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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