The "Aquarist's Curse"- How we make everything more complicated!

I think I might be like a lot of aquarists…I tend to dwell on really obscure minutiae. I mean, stuff that really, in the grand scheme of things, may not be that important. And I make simple stuff really complicated.


Although my lack of ability to do detailed work has always been a sort of problem for me, in the aquarium world, details are like, really important to me. Strange contrast with my working life...

I recall back in college, I was fortunate enough to land an internship in one of the hottest advertising agencies in Los Angeles- or the world, for that matter, at the time. As an intern, I spent time in a few different departments, even though I was “hired” for my alleged copywriting skills.

Yeah, it's not really like that.

One of the departments I was relegated to was called the “Traffic” department (yeah, even the name sounded challenging), where all of the media buying, scheduling, and seemingly mundane (to a wannabe young copywriter, anyways) and intricately detailed work was done. Translation- boring stuff. I remember “serving my time" in that department (yeah, that’s what my fellow interns and I called it) under a pretty crochety old advertising exec, who sort of loved and hated me at once. Loved my New Wave styling, but thought I was a bit "out there" in the idea department...She’d dispense the occasional nugget of ad-biz wisdom, followed by a verbal “backslap” for failing to follow her byzantine record-keeping system. Once of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was, “Don’t ever work in this tend to get lost in the details…”

never forgot that, BTW. I never do ridiculously detailed least not well. And it was a true summation of me as an aquatic hobbyist, too! Who would have known?

Fast forward some decades...

Like right now- I’m working on what is probably the simplest reef tank I’ve ever worked on, my Innovative Marine “Fusion Lagoon 50”- my “Everyman’s Reef Tank…” 

It's turnkey. Off the shelf. All in one. Simple.

I love this tank.

Not wanting to keep it totally “stock”, being the ridiculous aquarium dork that I am, I decided to change out the more-than-capable, yet generic main system pump on this all-in-one tank for a sexy RLSS Waveline 2500H DC pump..Yeah, when you have friends like I do challenging you daily- you’re simply enabled to tweak stuff…These guys, like most aquarists, myself included- operate on two premises:

1) Why keep it stock when you can modify the crap out of something "just because?"

2) You should be able to put something together and get it working without referring to the instructions.

So, carrying on the time honored aquarium-keeping tradition of making the simple ridiculous, and being susceptible to manipulation by my reef keeping buddies- I plotted and schemed.

And of course, the connections on the return are totally different than those on the outlet to this pump, and I don’t want to start drilling out bulkheads and I needed to get some more plumbing parts to adapt this square peg into a round home…Some $40 in fittings and two weeks later, here we are- an overbuilt, needlessly complicated, decidedly ridiculous monument to fish geek absurdity!

The simple, off-the-shelf-solution. Easy.

The aquarium nerd's solution. Absurd. Complicated...Gnarly!!

And of course, I’m just getting started! Now, I’m wondering if the rubber feet on the Waveline transmit a little noise, so I may need to line the bottom of the “sump” with some kind of mousepad or…


Okay, you get it. And I haven’t even talked to you about my dilemma with selecting a dosing system yet…

A dosing system? Me? Scott-freaking-Fellman? 


It’s the aquarist’s curse. You're in this game long enough, you just want to do everything some other way, right? Possibly, even the “hard way”, right? And again, I think it’s a product of our “culture” in the hobby. 

Another phenomenon- and this won't/can't happen to me this time- but I know literally a half dozen aquarists who did this: You start working on a cool system, accumulating gear, parts, and big ideas...Suddenly, three months into the project, you completely abandon it for a scaled-up, three-times-as-complicated, twice as expensive mega tank.

Sound familiar? Done this before? If not, you know a fish geek who has. Guaranteed.

The "Aquarist's Curse", indeed.

For some hobbyists, it’s a big part of what they love: Setting up aquarium automation, designing and building complex auto top-off systems, wavemakers, plant food doses, etc. Yeah, a lot of people just love that stuff…And part of me totally gets that. I mean, yeah, I’m a lot more interested in watching my fish, plants, and coral and seeing them thrive and grow than I am at setting up 43 different lighting settings from my iPhone, but I really can’t fault those who do. I mean, where would we be in the hobby without these bold experimental types? Besides, I love trying to adapt 6 plumbing parts to do the work of 2.

Although I know my limits...I think.

I’m almost operating "at capacity" when just setting up my lighting (don’t even get me started- that’s a whole different topic for another day..). Regardless of my challenges, I’ll occasionally come up with an idea just hair-brained enough to be considered rather intelligent (notice I didn’t use “brilliant” in any way, shape, or form..?).  

Of course, these "ideas" generally involve the unintended expenditure of large quantities of money and time.

The best-laid aquatic plans...require $$$.

I just find that, as hobbyists, we tend to get really into intricate detail on like…well, EVERYTHING! Like, we can’t just feed our fishes and manually fertilize our plants? We have to utilize automatic feeding and dosing systems. We can’t just put a siphon hose in the tank like our grandparents did..nope- we need to develop an automated water changing system, which makes an easy task more complicated by adding in the risk of technical failure (you think that spilling a little water on your feet with a siphon hose sucks, imagine draining your whole tank..into your garage or basement…I know at least two people who managed to accomplish this with their fancy systems…amazing insurance claims)!

You can almost hear the reptile guys taunting us: "How many fish geeks does it take to change a light bulb?" 

None, you heathens- we use fully controllable LED's! Get out of the Dark Ages!

Why use flex tubing, man?

The "Aquarist's Curse." 

I've got it. You've got it. And, quite frankly, if you say you don't, you're lying. Because you own an aquarium, not a goldfish bowl. Yeah, by virtue of the fact that you own an aquarium, you've you've submitted yourself to this absurd condition. 

So, I guess it's not really that bad. 

I'm looking forward to sharing the many absurdities of what should be a really simple build. 


Toss that one out the window. I have to figure out how I'm gonna hang my lighting system now...

Time for a confession...tell me you're cursed...admit it. Embrace it.

Share your stories.

Laugh at yourself. Love yourself, your community, and what you do.

You're cursed, yeah. But you're not alone. You're an aquarist.

Stay focused.

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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