Those moments...

Have you ever noticed that it seems to take a few weeks to really "learn" about a new tank?

For example, I recently set up a 50 gallon Innovative Marine "Fusion Lagoon 50" as a South American-themed blackwater display tank in my home office. Like any hobbyist, I went through all of the stages of setup: Conceptual planning, equipment selection, the build-out process, adding the hardscape, water, and ultimately, fishes.


The aquarium has had water in it for about 3 weeks or so, yet it wasn't really until the last few days that I think I got a good "feel" for the tank. Does that make sense to you? A new tank is like a new relationship. Ever think about it in those terms?

Yeah- you go through that period of initial excitement, anticipation, trying to not make mistakes; sometimes, there is a little awkwardness or nervousness associated with it until, ultimately, you realize that it's an enjoyable thing and you just do what comes naturally, making the best decisions possible to keep things happy and healthy. Then, you are very comfortable, while never taking it for granted or becoming complacent.

Good analogy, right? Maybe?

With a new aquarium, the first few weeks are really all about a "shakedown" of critical systems- making sure, first of all, that the damn thing holds water without leaking all over your hardwood floor. Then, the little things like the noises the tank makes will become evident. Learning the water level that the tank seems to run at, figuring out the best access points for maintenance- ergonomic stuff like that. Things you like, dislike, and want to tweak. Early on, you get a "feel" for the tank, much as a driver gets a feel for a new car and all of its quirks.

And of course, there are the inevitable things that occur along the way in this process to throw you for a loop or two: The water won't clear, the system pump is a bit noisy, you can't seem to get the heater to the exact temperature setting you want, lighting timers are awry, that piece of wood won't stay in place where you like it- the usual stuff that, although can be annoying, is all part of the game when you're setting up a new aquarium. You also understand that your tank looks "stark" and "sterile" in this early phase, and you tell yourself that it's just getting underway...

Then comes the "tweaking" phase: You know, "edits", as I like to call them. That rock needs to be tilted to the left ever-so-slightly, the wood needs adjustment...Maybe, a few less rocks and Savu Pods..yeah, more negative space.

Stuff like that. Part of the "process", if you will.

And then, after all of the anticipation, planning, and execution, there is that day when you tell yourself, "Yeah, this thing is really starting to come together!"

Usually, for me, this is around the second water change. By that time, you'll have learned a lot of the quirks and eccentricities of your new aquarium. You'll have seen the way it rebounds from maintenance procedures, and how it functions in daily operation. I always get a lump in my throat the first time I shut off the main system pump for maintenance. "Will it start right back up? Did I miscalculate the 'drain-down' capacity of the sump? Will this pump lose siphon?" 

And so what if it DOES? You simply...fix the problem. That's what fish geeks do.

That's my personal worry with a new tank, crazy though it might be. The reality, is that in decades of aquarium-keeping, I've NEVER had a pump not start right back up, or overflowed a sump after shutting down the pump...but I still watch, and worry...and don't feel good until that fateful moment after the first water change when I fire up the pump again, to the reassuring whir of the motor and the lovely gurgle of water once again circulating through my tank.

Okay, perhaps I'm a bit strange, but I'm being honest here- and I'm not entirely convinced that I'm the only one who has some of these hangups when dealing with a new tank. I've seen a lot of crazy hobbyists who go into a near depression when something goes wrong with their tanks, so this sort of behavior is really not that unusual, in my humble opinion!

And then, seemingly out of the blue, you look at your tank one day and you know things are even more better than they were last week; somehow, much different: The fish are beautiful and relaxed, the aquascape is settled in. Plants are growing. The water is clear, in a natural sort of way. You're seeing a more "broken-in" system that doesn't seem so "sterile", has that wonderful pleasant, earthy smell, and you realize that your system is healthy, biologically stable, and functioning perfectly.

It's that moment- and the many similar moments that will come later, which makes you remember exactly why you got into aquariums in the first place: That awesome sense of wonder, awe, excitement, frustration, exasperation, realization, and ultimately, triumph, which are all part of the journey- the personal, deeply emotional journey- towards a successful aquarium that only a real aquarist understands.

Those are the moments that make the hobby so engrossing and so enjoyable. Those are the moments which make all of the other stuff we do so worthwhile. As you're going through the process of setting up a new tank, be sure to stop and savor each and every moment of the magic of aquarium keeping.

Stay committed. Stay excited. Stay engrossed...

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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