Making the BIG jump...and accepting the realities...

I was talking to a customer over the weekend, and he was excitedly relating to me the plans for his newest aquarium, a 300 gallon mega fish and plant display. Of course, he wanted to load it with our botanicals. He told me all about the cool lighting, the crazy pumps, the fancy gear and water change systems and all kinds of cool technical aspects of his upcoming mega-budget super tank. Yeah, he was reef aquarium guy making the "big switch  to freshwater...And thinking that freshwater was gonna be some kind of joke compared to a reef tank (and let's call it like it is- he was a lousy reefer...). 

I think I have dealt with two or three customers with the same mindset since Tannin started operations, and it's always the same...

As I listened, I couldn't help but reflect that the basis for the phone call was an issue he was having with keeping some very basic fishes alive. In fact, the customer said that almost everything he bought for his 29 gallon freshwater "test tank" died within a few weeks after getting the animals in his system. He performed "some" water changes, and tested "some" parameters (most of his water parameters were "perfect", according to him...oh man!). Apparently, his theory was that the quality of the fishes he was getting from various sources were, in his words, "sub par." Yeah.

And this guy was about to embark on a five-figure, mutli-hundred gallon mega freshwater system. "Does he have a clue at all?", I thought. I mean, his assumption was that his troubles with fishes and plants would simply vanish if he built a larger tank. Magically, all of the skills and experience he lacked in 29 gallons would be remedied by increasing his water volume by 271 gallons! 

I did what any responsible seasoned aquarium geek would do: After I told him how cool all his gear sounded, thenI asked him if he was up to the challenge. Well, the retort was a bit angry, actually. I mean, the guy was ready to drop around 15 grand on the tank, and he was a "bight" reefer, so therefore, he felt that this meant he knew exactly what he was doing. "I've been researching this tank for MONTHS!", he proudly retorted.

I was like, "Seriously? But you can't keep a darned Tetra alive?" 

Somehow, in his head, he felt like he felt like he "paid his dues" with his smaller "reef aquarium" and all of its fancy gear- that he accomplished all there was to accomplish in that realm- and that he was ready to go "to the next level" (his exact words) and apply all of his "success" from reef keeping to this sparkling new mega freshwater tank. As if keeping a freshwater tank was some kind of picnic to begin with- let alone, at a mega size like he was contemplating. I did my best to gently dissuade him from making such a huge commitment with his limited experience and skills (and not to laugh- really). I've seen this type of looming disaster before- we all have.


And the ensuing train wreck that is likely to emerge will not be pretty. It will suck mostly for the animals that will die because of his incompetence and arrogance. It will suck for the people that built the fine quality components that he will no doubt misapply. It will especially suck for him, because he will not get the joy you get from progressing naturally in the hobby and building carefully upon successes. It will suck for the hobby in general, because, although he'll add to the hobby economy for a short time, his failure will cost it in the long-term. It will NOT suck for the predators on the forums that will snatch up his equipment at volume prices when he calls it quits and sells everything at a huge loss.

All of this seemingly negative talk about the challenges of setting up a large aquarium is not presented to discourage you from setting one up. However, it is presented to give you a sort of "reality check" as you contemplate a large system. It's easy to fantasize about the huge aquarium that you're going to build when you win the lottery. It's quite another to actually set it up if you're of more modest means- or skills. In reality, it's usually necessary to compromise somewhat based on budget, space, time, etc.

They became a big part of your life, just like a dog, cat, or a child (I can't believe I'm putting all of them in the same sentence, but you get the idea). You don't just fire 'em up and forget about 'em.

Remember, despite what you might see and hear, having a large aquarium does not brand you as a "success" in our hobby, any more than maintaining a smaller system brands you as a novice. It's not like you crossed over some imaginary barrier and arrived as a "serious" hobbyist. Success in the hobby is about creating and maintaining a vibrant, healthy aquarium, regardless of size, for the long term growth and prosperity of its inhabitants.

Yes, large aquariums are impressive. But I've seen plenty of large aquariums that were downright unremarkable (in fact, I've set up a few, myself). Many hobbyists set up huge systems as the "next phase" in their aquarium career, and some end in disappointment- or even disaster. If you're not able to master the art and science of aquarium keeping with a small system, a large tank will likely not be any different for you. Think before you leap.

Large aquariums can be visually arresting, beneficial to their inhabitants, and just generally add a new dimension of fun to your hobby. However, the time, money and commitment to maintain them are a serious consideration. Keeping a large aquarium is not an endeavor that you enter into lightly.

Sure, I'm preaching to the choir here, but you'd be surprised how often seemingly solid aquarists literally go off the deep end and chart a course for hobby destruction.

Bigger isn't always better. It's just bigger.

So, before you make that leap, please PLEASE do a reality check and, if you're not certain if your up for the challenge...wait. There is no "law" that says you have to have a humongous tank after 2, 3- or even 27 years in the hobby. There is no label of "success" just because your tank is 500 gallons instead of 50.


Like everything else, be yourself, do it YOUR way, and enjoy!

But I think most of you get that already...However, when you encounter people like this customer, please remember to tell it like it is!

Stay helpful. Stay humble. Stay supportive. Stay real.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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