Chasing The GOAT...

GOAT- adj./ - Sports acronym for "Greatest Of All Time"

Let's appropriate it for our own little review here of the greatest fish inventions of all time....

Our hobby has undergone numerous changes over the generations. Technology, technique, education, and experience have all impacted the way we play with tropical fishes. Things change rapidly, and the equipment we use today has changed with the times as well...Sadly some has even disappeared. 

Yet, there are still some pieces of equipment that have defied this progression. They've evolved a bit, but they fundamentally haven't changed all that much...'cause they work!

Yeah- we still embrace low-tech wonders from the past that have transformed our hobby, while transcending time and even defying more modern technology. Clever, crafty, defiant, and yet, useful things that are the literal “tools of the trade.” A chef has his knives, a carpenter his tools…We have these beauties. Here's my tribute to the simple, elegant stuff.

Where would the modern aquarium hobby be without stuff like:

The nylon fish net-  Like, seriously, how else do you catch a damn fish? The concept has been around for millennia. The kind we use have changed a bit, but the idea is unchanged since like Biblical times, right?

I mean, there was a time in the hobby, many years ago, when all you could get were cotton fish nets. With shitty metal handles that rusted out quickly. Nasty, icky musty fish nets were somewhat common.Yes, the nylon fish net predates most of us, but it’s just one of those things we take for granted as having "always been around." Like frozen blood worms or decapsulated brine shrimp eggs! It was a huge advancement. 

Ironically, the wooden-framed nets are considered better quality than the twisted, coated wire ones. And then there are plastic ones, too. Yet, IMHO, low tech rules! The newer ones that supposedly “blend in the water” so that fish don’t see them seem like a good idea to me…But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a time when a fish “didn’t see” the net as it’s coming after them, nylon, plastic, or otherwise. Well, thank goodness for quality fish nets, regardless.

The latest iteration of an awesome, high tech wonder tool..

Plastic airline tubing- This stuff is the "duct tape" of aquarium keeping! Who among us doesn't have a few feet of this stuff lying around? Answer- NO ONE!

I mean, yeah, lots of hobbyists use it for pumping air into aquariums, but its so much more versatile. We use it for things like creating drip acclimation lines (hardcore users start a little siphon and then tie a knot with it to start a slow drip). We use it even when we don't have an air pump. I’ve seen it used for tying stuff together, making extensions on plastic syringes to act as an ITFD (“improvised target feeding device”), and many other uses. A serious invention that’s stood the test of time!

Oh, and you can get it in silicone, too!

The culinary world has flour. We have...airline tubing. Yeah. We do.

The airstone-  Wooden, ceramic, or plastic, this invention dates back to the 1940’s-50’s, and has been a fixture in the aquarium hobby to this day. This humble piece of technology, simple though it may be, is a cornerstone of modern aquaristic practice. An easy, elegant way to deliver aeration to an aquarium, it’s been used for many decades with reliable efficiency.

Sure, some of the plastic and wooden airstones are prone to clogging from time to time, but the ceramic ones, which have changed very little (in like, half a century!) are pretty damn reliable. Weather you’re using them to aerate a tank, hatch brine shrimp, power a protein skimmer, or provide aeration in a temporary holding container, the airstone is without peer in the world of aquarium supplies!

Be it ever so humble...the airstone transformed the hobby. Still does.

The plastic "specimen container"- Omigod, this is like the standard-issue piece of fish equipment.  The ultimate in resistance to evolution, too.

It’s transcended everything from Goldfish-keeping to reef-keeping. You’ll find specimen containers being used at every level of the hobby, all over the world! I’ve used them to acclimate corals, treat sick fishes, hold baby guppies, hatch brine shrimp, mix salt, thaw out food, hatch killie eggs... I mean, there’s hardly a fish room task that the decidedly low-tech specimen container is not up for! I mean, it's a fucking plastic box.

Yet, the damn thing is totally "future proof", too, right?

Q-How does a plastic box to hold water ever become "obsolete?"

A- It can't.

I don’t think the design has changed in like 50 years! It's used for everything. I even remember an early reef experiment where I directed water flow into one from my reef tank, put an old light fixture above it, grew some Caulerpa inside, along with some sand and (I don’t recall why) snails-and let the water flow back into my reef. This was like 1985, and it was my crude attempt at an “algae scubber”, or perhaps- maybe- I was the one who invented the modern refugium..Yeah, that’s it!  I'm a visionary.

OK, in my head, anyways…(the modern refugium concept actually predated my crude idea by years…but a guy can have his delusions, right?). But it all started with this humble device!

Is the "specimen container" the greatest aquarium hobby invention of all time? I think there's a really strong case to be made for this!

Don't you dare call it a plastic box! It can be whatever you want it to be. A foundation for dreams, even.

The algae scraper- Woah…Freshwater, saltwater, brackish- whatever. Hobbyists of every age, experience, and generation have come to hate algae on the sides of our aquariums. It’s a nemesis like no other, "defiling" our tanks, frustrating us, and causing hobby havoc. I know people that literally left the aquairum hobby because of algae. It’s hated stuff in our world. A constant battle many of us must fight, right? We needed a weapon, and the hobby gods obliged us.

Along came the algae scraper..and the battle was joined. Originally, just a piece of sponge on a stick, the algae scraper has evolved radically from humble "stone axe" to high-tech, stainless-steel synthetic wonder weapon! You have plastic scraping blades for acrylic, razors, dense matrix synthetic plastics, and other types of scrapers of varying composition and effectiveness. We have ergonomic plastic handles, replaceable scraping surfaces…

And we even have the ultimate evolution- to the algae cleaning magnet, equipped with replaceable, high tech synthetic pads to both polish your outside surfaces while attacking this dreaded pestilence- all while keeping your hand dry! You can hold a beer in one hand, and scrape algae with the other. Is that progress, or what?

The stick may be gone, but the goal is the same: Cleaning viewing areas without getting our hands wet.

Seachem created the "iPad of Algae Scrapers!" The latest, most elegant version of the original low-tech aquarium maintenance device...

So there you have just a few of the most humble, yet useful tools of all time. I could literally go on for hours. Don't tempt me.

Sure, we have sophisticated electronic controllers, super-smart, Bluetooth-enabled LED lighting systems, high-tech DC pumps, dosers, and other complicated gadgets, many of which I couldn’t even figure out how to use (however, I'm sold on my "Smart ATO" top system…Progress can be scary, right?).

However, these simple throwbacks, derived from need and function, comprise part of the legacy of our hobby’s “greatest generation”- that time when if you needed something fast, you’d cobble it together, because there was no Amazon, online vendors or Google…Can you imagine, having to "DIY"stuff?

Oh, wait- we still do DIY…THAT hasn’t changed! The only difference is that these things end up in our Facebook news feed (“Look, I repurposed my toothbrush into a protein skimmer cleaner!” Like, whatever, bro)

Okay, I"m really going on and on here. That's my style, though, right?

I submit to you that few, if any aquarium writers of my generation have written columns heaping g adulation on plastic specimen containers and the joys of airline tubing- and none threw together a piece on said subjects at 5:30 AM PDT)!

I open myself up to the scrutiny of my peers for my choices (Shit, this makes espousing stuff like blackwater aquariums feel like child’s play), and challenge you to add to my humble tribute list.

What humble, generation-spanning aquarium inventions do you find indispensable, and still relevant?

I want know. Don’t be shy- it’s the chance to wax poetic about the relics from a gentler, kinder time, when frozen food still got freezer burn, everyone was awe-struck by that green Eheim tubing, and there was only one choice for water testing (a pool pH test kit)…We owe it to these devices to pay them tribute.

Hell, we owe it to our children, to pass this "tribal knowledge" on, so that future generations of hobbyists can appreciate the efforts of the nameless hobbyists who helped build our culture.

Ok, that was really poetic, huh?  So, just share with us what gadgets from the past you still use. Simple. Extra points for pics of old, repurposed gear, too!

As always, look at the past with pride, look at the future with hope, and look at the present on your iPad.😆

Stay reflective. Stay innovative. Stay creative. Stay grateful...And always...

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment