Beginning..evolving...arriving at where you are now.

I've been asked to do a series on the popular reef keeping blog Reef Builders, about starting your first reef tank. While writing this series, I've had some chances to reflect back on my own beginnings and evolution as a hobbyist, and it's been sort of enlightening! My father started me in the aquarium hobby when I was about 3 years old. He bred fancy guppies, and my first fish were some of his culled fry, along with a goldfish bowl, food, and some good advice:

 “Feed them small amounts often, and change some of the water every few days. Watch them carefully, and you’ll be able to tell if they are having any problems.”

Good advice..Great advice, actually. Some of the best aquatic advice I ever received. To this day, I apply those simple bits of advice to my aquatic efforts, with fantastic results. I will always be grateful to my father, not only for his love and compassion; not just for the advice he bestowed upon me - but for simply being there. He started me on this lifelong adventure in the aquatic realm. An adventure that would take me from the kid with a fishbowl to an owner of a truly amazing online livestock company and ultimately, to a speciality aquarium products vendor. 

How funny that the most simple advice I've ever received has guided my aquatic passions far more than some of the complex directives I've been given by well-intentioned aquarists over the years.

My dad knew something that was pretty remarkable: If you have a passion, share it with your children. Teach them what you know, nurture their dreams, answer their questions, and encourage them in every way.

Give your son or daughter their first fishbowl, nano-tank, baby guppies. Allow them to feel the excitement when they add that new plant, find that cool Angelfish they’ve been looking for, or create that perfect aquascape. Embrace their geeky enthusiasm. And most of all, treasure them.

And watch them- watch YOU- evolve in the hobby. Look back at where you came from, where you've went..and reflect upon where you're at now.

After a certain number of years in the aquarium keeping game, it seems as if you develop, in addition to an ever-growing collection of fishes, plants, tanks, equipment, and “stuff”, a certain “je ne sais quoi” - an intrinsic knowledge, a “sixth sense”, or even a swagger, sort of- about your aquariums. Am I right here? I mean, after you’ve collected, kept, propagated, bred- and yeah, unfortunately- killed- your fair share of ‘em, you kinda just “know” when things are going well, and when something is terribly amiss with your collection. It’s a skill- or perhaps- a blessing- or even a “curse” that we afflicted hobbyists acquire during our tenure in the aquarium-keeping hobby..

You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? Yeah…You’ve developed that crazy ability to look beyond the obvious when observing your tank, and being able to quickly ascertain what’s join on in there. You can tell at a glance that your favorite stand of aquatic plants is just not looking "right", or that your prized Tropheus is about to go south. Perhaps it’s a result of that new supplement you just switched to, or that change you made to your lighting program. Maybe, it’s a result of postponing your regular water change. Regardless of what it is, you have the ability to sense something is not right.

After dealing with- no- obsessing with- aquariums for a few years, you certainly develop a personal “baseline” for your animals, and when something is “not right”, it’s immediately apparent to you. And the interesting thing is that this ability comes to EVERYONE who keeps tanks…It’s not a skill reserved for the privileged few or the occasionally “gifted” aquarist…No- it’s a skill that we DEVELOP over time based on observing and adjusting…and enduring” the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of an aquarium. 

Sure, you can read all about fishes and their care on line, in a book, or in a magazine, but the ultimate skill comes from practicing aquarium keeping. In other words, the hobby really separates the “talkers” from the “doers” without doubt or prejudice. You know because you’re a hobbyist. And if you don’t know, you’ll learn- if you stay in the game.

You'll make stuff evolve.

You’ll encounter pests, equipment failures, diseases, bad results resulting from bad decisions. You’ll also learn from the great decisions that you’ve made; from the hunch that you played about moving that Sword Plant over a few inches to the right. From the time that you passed on adding that Abramites to your system, or from the brilliant decision to change out that old heater that was sticking in the “on” position.

All decisions made as a result of your experience...

No matter how large or how small your tank is…No matter what type of methodology you embrace, the longer you stay in the game, the more you’ll develop this skill as long as you practice aquarium-keeping. The funny thing is, even though it makes sense that, yeah- the longer you do something, the better you get at it- this doesn’t always apply to aquariums. Some people can recognize that something is amiss, but they fail to interpret it or do something about it. Or, maybe, they just don't...

We used to see this in reef keeping a lot...People would know that something was amiss...and just get bogged down in analysis...sometimes with disappointing results...

You’ll develop the sense I’m talking about almost from day one in the hobby.

You already have. However, what separates the “hardcore” aquarium hobbyist from the masses who simply "keep fish tanks" is that the hobbyist with talent knows what to do with this innate sense. He or she knows that, if something is not right, they need to make this or that adjustment- or even do nothing at all. They know-You know- this because they/you practice aquarium keeping, discuss aquarium keeping, and well- live, eat, drink, sleep aquarium keeping. It becomes not just a hobby, but a lifestyle. Many of us have an attachment to our fish much the way a dog or cat owner has that attachment to their beloved pet. It’s way beyond just a hobby- it becomes part of a lifestyle.

Yeah, to some people, it’s not only part of their lifestyle, but a dominant factor in their existence, affecting all sorts of other decisions, such as relationships, travel, home buying decisions, and economic goals. Sometimes, it’s not a healthy thing, either. I’ve known reefers whose relationships failed, finances collapsed, and lifestyles negatively affected because they were more in tune with their tanks than they were with the other realities of life. I mean, yeah, those are extreme cases with perhaps other types of dysfunction present, but the signs of aquarium keeping’s affects on our lives-good and bad- are everywhere for almost all of us, if you think about it. 

 When was the last time you decided NOT to install that new piece of equipment before you left on the family vacation, because you were afraid of the possibility that it could fail when you were out of town? Or, perhaps you passed on a social engagement because you were doing a major overhaul to your aquascaping. Or maybe, you didn’t get that new dishwasher you really needed because it was more important at the time to get the new LED system for your tank…All decisions that can have greater impact down the line, or even collectively- possibly leading your life into unexpected new directions as a result. Sure, these are extreme interpretations, but there are unintended consequences- both good and bad- to being a hardcore hobbyist. The difference is about how you let it affect you and the rest of your life, I think.


On the good side, many people have developed lifelong friendships as a result of their hobby. Some have went on to start companies that affected the industry and hobby. Still others went on to share their experiences with others by writing or speaking. Rewarding turns that have enriched lives greatly- not only for the hobbyist- but for the other hobbyists whom he or she came into contact with as a result of their mutual love for the hobby. 

The intriguing thing about this hobby is just how addicting or engaging it can be. How all-encompassing and satisfying it is. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who “dabbles” with aquariums. Then again, I tend not to hang with people who "dabble" in aquariums...Rather, it's "binary": They’re either hooked on aquariums, or they keep mice or something. Why is that? Well, I think that part of the reason is that once you try a tank, you just “get it”, and your interest and passion blossom from there. Aquarium keeping offers stimulation and challenges that few other hobbies can. It's what creates 4--tank fish rooms from one 10-gallon "community tank" in the living room from Christmas time.

Those of us who are hardcore hobbyists are basically in it for life. Sure, there might be a year or two where circumstances keep us out of the game for a bit, but we never fully disengage. I know a lot of aquarists who had awesome tanks, and then for one reason or another, got out for a while…However, when they got back into it- and they ALWAYS did- they would tell me things like, “Yeah, I always followed the forums and read the magazines and stuff..” It just never really gets out of your system.

This “thing” that we do- this hobby, pastime- obsession…whatever you wan to  call it, seems to encompass every emotion and experience you can have in life, doesn’t it? Pleasure, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, a sense of individuality, as well as a sense of belonging- they’re all there. 

When did YOU know that you had that “thing” for fish? Was it a gradual transition from other hobbies, or was it this thing that just hit you one day? Did you start on your own, or did someone else get you hooked? How long did it take to get hooked on this hobby?  What kind of impact does aquarium keeping have on the rest of your life? 

Interesting questions to ponder, aren’t they?  

A little more to ponder as we get on with the week.

Make it a good one. Make it count. 

Keep evolving. Stay engaged. Stay philosophical...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response

Don Allan
Don Allan

April 26, 2017

Thanks for so many great articles to read.
Iam really loving the tannins for aquariums. It’s so unique and special cause many aren’t into it yet. I read where other “shrimpers” boil their almond leaves first cause they don’t want the tint…What a waste

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