Flexing our hobbyist muscles...

Occasionally, I feel like the "Oprah" of the aquarium keeping world, and am compelled to dispense quasi-nonsensical advice to you with an air of seemingly undisputed authority...Today is such a day, and you'll have to indulge me with this one. Tomorrow we can talk about Barb care, prepping leaves, cleaning your canister filter, or something far more practical. 

I was thinking that, as fish geeks, we engage in a lot of everyday "rituals" and such that make us better, stronger, more intelligent hobbyists. However, occasionally, we lose our way and are looking for a track to run on, some ideas to deploy. In that vein, I give you ten compelling ways to become more empowered as a hobbyist each and every day. As usual, you can, and should contribute to this list. It's getting close to Winter, and besides being about holidays, to me, it's about change, and joy ..So, lets see if we can invigorate your hobby experience with this stuff...Here goes:

Make a “To Do” list of weekly aquarium tasks and follow it- Yeah, seems simple, right? However, if you make an easy to follow list of tasks- and actually get to a few of them throughout the week, not only will you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment about having gotten them done, you’ll see great results in your tanks! And, you’ll be able to really ascertain what is necessary for YOUR systems from what “the books” tell you to do. It will create a more personalized, effective aquarium keeping “practice” for you, trust me. You'll know that the things that you are doing with your tanks are correct for them...a truly "customized" experience, as it should be.

Collate inspiration- If you’re trying to create the most unique display ever, you’ll probably need a bit of inspiration! So, why not scour the ‘net for cool inspiration in the form of pics, article, etc., and collate it all in one place for easy reference? You can organize by categories, such as aquascaping, inspirational tanks, natural habitat shots, corals, articles on fish care, etc. OMG- I think I’m describing Pinterest! Well, bottom line is that this site seems the least nonsensical of the “social media” to me, simply because you’re just collecting stuff and putting it in one place for reference, although I’m sure that there must be some lame feature that makes this site annoying. You could just make a folder on your desktop and store downloads and pics there…good enough. So, put those inspiring ideas somewhere useful, ok?

Check out your tank early in the morning- Like I really have to tell you this? Well, yeah, I should at least remind you to do this. In our daily lives, we tend to cram so much stuff into our days that it can get too hectic to check out our reefs the way they should be. Often times, looking at your reef first thing, before the lights come on, can yield some information and valuable clues about the direction of your tank. You’ll see creatures that you won’t see when the lights are on. You’ll be able to inspect plants, rocks, and other internal features of the tank without fishes swimming all over and plants fully open, giving you a better opportunity to evaluate flow, noise levels, and other attributes of your tank that become utterly lost when everything is up and running. Plus, if you do discover a problem, you have a chance to get it BEFORE you head out for the day. WARNING: I’ve started my day this way, working on a “quick tweak” to my aquascape or whatever, and ended up calling in sick, spending the whole day re-scaping the tank. Yup.

And you have, too.

Try feeding your fishes something new- Yeah, the old cliche about variety being the spice of life is extremely applicable to aquarium husbandry. Trying new foods is important for several reasons. First, you will get a chance to evaluate the acceptability and usefulness of various brands. Trying different foods does simulate a natural environment a bit more closely, in that, on any given day, fishes will “find what they find” in nature, depending on numerous factors. So, you could argue that selecting a variety of new foods creates a more natural situation for fishes. Besides, there are certain foods out there that contain more protein, more substances that stimulate better color in fishes, disease recovery, etc. And, when you’re “weaning” new arrivals into their new life in captivity, it’s important to try as many foods as possible to stimulate feeding.

Take notes- Yup, paper and pen, or Ipad and finger, are some of the greatest inventions ever for aquarium keepers! Record your daily tank observations. Not only is it useful, as it can help you establish a “baseline” of your tanks normal operations, animal behaviors, and overall status, it will help you look back on what is “normal” for your system, so that one day, when something isn’t looking right, you’ll be able to turn to your notes and realize that the big Cryptocoryne was NOT extending its leaves every time you dosed _______, or that colors in your fishes usually intensified three days after you changed out the catappa leaves, or whatever. Useful stuff. And, you might just be able to accumulate enough material to write a blog or article- or even a book, to really help other fish geeks! Yeah…


Study- What? No, really- take a few minutes every day to study some aspect of aquarium keeping. Whether it’s water chemistry, fish compatibility, how a solenoid valve works, or how to feed Discus, you’ll become a better hobbyist simply by knowing more. Not only will you learn some things that can help you acquire more knowledge and skill, you’ll be in a better position to help others. If you see that “everyone” is preaching about doing a certain thing one way, and you’re actually getting crazy good results by doing just the contrary, shouldn’t everyone know about it? Yeah, studying and sharing are totally fundamental practices that will help propel you- and the hobby- further!

Ask a question- Yup, you heard me. Go on a forum, blog, website, etc., and ask a question about a topic that has you baffled. Not only will you find that other reefers probably are just as confused as you are about the same topic, you’ll probably end up making some friends in the process. Whaoh, wait a second…I know, I know, you’re thinking “Fellman is asking me to make friends with other fish geeks and sing songs around the campfire…sheesh.” No, you still have my permission to be antisocial and avoid being pals with everyone- don’t worry. What I am suggesting is that you might find a few hobbyists who have a common interest, and whom you can occasionally run by a question or idea for comment. You can still engage in antisocial, curmudgeonly behavior in other aspects of your aquarium life, not to worry.

Eat in front of your tank- I dare you. You need to prove to yourself- and your family- that you can engage in “normal” life activities while enjoying your aquarium. You know, like talking to your spouse and children. The real trick is to enjoy your deep discussion (and grilled chicken breast with balsamic reduction and steamed baby Bok Choy) WITHOUT reaching for the tank tongs or adjusting the lighting intensity on your LEDs, or some other “necessary” task. Can you do it? If you can, you’ll really be proving to your family that an aquarium can ENHANCE your lifestyle, not take it over. See if you’re up to the challenge.

Stuff your face...and interact with family, too.. In front of the aquarium...Woah! crazy concept.

Share a pic- Even if you’re no professional photographer, a picture is truly worth a thousand words, or some nonsense like that. If we accept what all of the self-appointed social media “experts” that have emerged from every nook and cranny tell us, sharing is super easy and will help us in other areas of our lives. We’re not talking about taking “selfies” of you and your favorite Apsito. That’s just weird. However, everyone likes seeing a good FTS. Besides, these same “experts” tell us that people can only absorb 140 characters of information (apparently, human culture and the brain have devolved to this point in the last decade), so just blow off “Twitter” and post a pic of your fave fish instead. Let others enjoy and comment on it. Feel involved and cool. For extra credit, you could write things like “#awesome betta” or “#mytank is the bomb” or other ridiculous, “searchable” crap with your pic that will help more people find it. No, actually- that’s stupid.

Just put up a freaking pic and be done with the whole project. I’m just sayin’…

Visit the LFS and spend some money there- Yeah, you heard me. The LFS is the coolest institution in the hobby. Cooler than online vendors, way cooler than forums. You can actually support a business that you can touch, see, feel, smell. You can support a hobby institution that has tangible, broad-reaching impact. When you support a local fish store, not only are you getting the “instant gratification” that the inter webs cannot provide, you’re helping foster the very culture of aquarium keeping. The LFS is the aquarium equivalent of the “watering hole” on the African Serengeti Plain, sans predators, drought, and Water Buffalo stampedes. It’s a place to get inspired, see something new, try out products that you’ve never seen before, and to interact on a real, tangible level with other members of the “tribe.” Long live the LFS!

(Image by Swanepole, used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Okay, so this was a bit esoteric today, but I think you get the idea. Each day is a chance to try something new that can help you become a more “empowered” hobbyist, engaged, enlightened, and invigorated. If you’ve noticed, a lot of my suggestions involve not only interacting with your tank, but interacting with other hobbyists. It’s important, meaningful, and will serve to make you a better, more well-rounded aquarist. Sharing and exchanging ideas has never been easier, and it’s a vital part of perpetuating and enhancing our awesome hobby. So, despite my constant reminders to boycott most of the ludicrous “social media” nonsense  it’s never a bad idea to reach out to a fellow fish geek now and again. 

In the end, the hobby is about more than just keeping plans and fishes, and playing with expensive equipment. It’s about building skills, relationships, and contributing to a body of knowledge that is larger than ourselves.

Like everything I throw up here, I’m open to suggestions, so let’s hear your ideas for becoming a more empowered, powerful hobbyist..

As always, enjoy your day, your hobby, and each other.

Stay sensible. Stay open-minded. Stay calm. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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