Just read the instructions...sort of.

One of the absolute "givens" in the aquarium hobby is the necessity of doing some stuff your self- figuring out and executing ways to fix things, set stuff up, accomplish all sorts of aquarium-related tasks, ranging from the most mundane to the highest-level practices, and everything in-between.

Now, there is a significant body of hobby knowledge about all sorts of stuff out there- I mean, we've been at this for a while now.

The aquarium hobby as we know it has really been around for about 100 plus years (Okay, nerd- I know that the Ancient Greeks and Chinese kept carp, or whatever-but we're talking about the "modern" aquarium hobby, okay? That's really like the last century.). During that time, lots of stuff has been figured out- the nitrogen cycle, many of the critical environmental needs of our fishes, husbandry practices, heater and filter technology, etc...

All well and good, but there is a lot of information out there- and a lot of ways to do things...And no real "central clearing house" for information, right? You have to dig for it sometimes  You have to use your brain, ask around, utilize Google, read blogs and magazine articles, haunt forums, etc. And even then, you literally have to sort the B.S. and drivel from the real, useful information.

No one said this shit was easy...But it's not difficult, either.


Take for example, gadgets.

Unlike many of you, I am one of those aquarists who barely has the "Quasi-DIY Gene", and I know it. I can scheme out and plumb my reef aquarium, set up a canister filter, coordinate a flow pattern with off-the-shelf electronic pumps, dial in a CO2 regulator, etc. I can almost program a controller without throwing it at the wall, so I suppose that's progress. But that's the outer limits of my hobby mechanical skill set.

In the "serious" aquarium hobby, this is considered fairly basic stuff. However, when it comes to the hardcore stuff, like building a reliable and safe auto top off system, constructing a custom stand, or assembling my own LED lighting array, that's where I beg off and seek the guidance of fellow fish geeks that love that kind of stuff.

I know my limits.

Like most of you, I've acquired a fairly extensive set of rather obscure skills, like understanding the nuances of ball valves, re-starting a canister filter, culturing Daphnia, adjusting a CO2 solenoid, etc. These are skills you sort of accumulate by either observing other fish geeks, or just by jumping in and doing them.

And, occasionally you'll figure out how to get something like a calcium reactor or doser going on the first try, be it through luck or just having the skills required. However, if you're like most fish geeks, more often than not, you'll get it about 80% right the first try.

Not bad.

Just read the instructions...er, sort of...

Have you ever noticed that there is really no "instruction manual" for aquarium projects, or even for many of the pieces of equipment that we use? Okay, yeah, there are some famous You Tubers who do have videos on some of that kind of stuff...There are resources out there for almost everything. If you look really hard.

That's the key. Even in this hyper-searchable era, you still need to dig for stuff you want to find out more about. That's life. Decades ago, it was time to go to the library, go to a fish club meeting, or hang out at the LFS and pick the brains of some hardcore hobbyists. Those things still work, btw.

We as a group are pretty damn impatient, though! I will literally have times when I share a link on Instagram or Facebook to an article I wrote on a specific topic, like, preparing botanicals or whatever- and in the comments on the post, someone will inevitably ask, "Cool! How do you prepare those things before you add them to your tank? Do you have to boil them?"


I mean, it gets me sort of cranky. Like, how lazy are we?

I suppose, in all fairness, it's the desire to obtain more exact, more concise, or more immediate information that results in these bizarrely annoying questions. Like, "Just cut to the chase. How long do I have to boil my Cariniana pods for?"

That's why infographics exist, right?

Books will talk in sweeping generalities about stuff like the need for a multistage canister filter in an Mbuna tank, or a kalk stirrer or reactor for a reef, and maybe even have a computer-generated diagram showing where it is in the setup scheme. However, you never see things like, "In order to make the reactor work, you'll need a ______ pump, two feet of 1/2" vinyl tubing, two ball valves, and enough room in your equipment area to accomodate a 4" x 20" reactor body. The assembled unit should be placed approximately 4 inches to the side of the sump, with enough clearance to____________."

Ok, you get my drift. 

I mean, why should they? There are so many variations on how to do stuff, what exact components to use, and how long it takes (ie; how difficult it is) that anything more than generalities about many topics is not only hard to share- it's likely irresponsible.

Yeah, you kind of need to research what you can,  roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and just go for it. Or, you can pay someone to do it for you, right? There are many great aquarium service people out there who do just that!

Many aquarium products do come with a diagram, maybe some basic introductory stuff about why it's good to have the piece of equipment (C'mon, you KNOW that already, or you wouldn't have purchased it, right? You STILL need to be sold on why a calcium reactor is a good thing for your reef aquarium after you bought it? That sort of stuff always makes me laugh), and if you’'re lucky, a decent set of instructions- or an exploded diagram.

Yeah, I agree- in some instances with some products, the manufacturers would be far better off providing a very detailed assembly and placement information for the purchaser, IMHO. Oh, sure, there are many manufacturers who do this, but not all.  I know, it sometimes seems like it's "expected" that, as a fish geek, you have this "hidden knowledge database" programmed in your head to figure out how to assemble everything. 

And in some ways, a lot of it makes sense. One of my buddies takes the hard stance that, if you can't figure out how to set up a piece of gear you purchased, you're probably not ready for it.

Hard to argue with that, right? 

Again, we need to educate ourselves as hobbyists. If you're into this game, you'll WANT to research and learn, right? You're not just getting some gadget "because they say to do it!" -right? If you are, you need to re-think it. 


Yeah, skills and experiences do go hand in hand. You sometimes DO need to do stuff to understand it...However, what you don't have "programmed", you can always find by tapping into the "matrix" (sorry, had to borrow the term) of hobby knowledge that is "out there." Have you noticed that?  Often times, you must acquire the arcane knowledge that you need by internet search, listening to podcasts, watching You Tube, haunting the LFS, or hanging with your fish-keeping buddies and visiting their setups?

Fun, yes, but often frustrating for some.

There is really no formal "aquarium construction guide" out there. None. Yes, lots of books talk about the theoretical and broad implementation of this gadget or another, but no one has really written a treatise with turnkey information about how to construct a perfect aquarium. 

Weird, huh?

Not really.  There is no ONE perfect way.

We all know this- regardless of if we want to admit it or not. And yeah, some stuff you just need to "work through", understand the rationale for, and go for it. You need to learn for yourself. And you DO know by now that having a collection of the best and most expensive trendy gadgets and stuff won't make you a better aquarist.  You need to understand the basics of the hobby. I've seen plenty of tanks quipped with the best and baddest of everything which positively sucked.

You know this, however.

Now, I suppose,  if you have the DIY thing in your game, you hate this state of affairs, and you can write a bit, there's your calling- write a book on how to equip a modern aquarium system, with detailed diagrams and step-by-step instructions on how to assemble it. Woah! That would upset the entire balance of the universe, because suddenly, hobbyists would have a single resource to turn to for reference on how to do_______! You'd no longer have to go though painful trial and error while building what you feel is a properly-equipped aquarium!

Oh sure, there are some of you who would scoff at the idea, saying that the painful accumulation of this knowledge and the skills to pull of these projects SHOULD be gained through blood, sweat, and tears- you've gotta "pay your dues" by searching for obscure information and failing a few times on the way.

I mean, I understand that. In the end, it makes you a better hobbyist- assuming you don't quit along the way. Don't quit. 

And I suppose, one could make an argument for having everything concisely presented on every possible aquarium topic, right? I mean, how would you feel the next time you fly from say, LA to New York, if the two guys up front were "paying their dues" during YOUR flight? Or, if the guy in the surgical scrubs patting your arm as you fall asleep on the operating table is "figuring out your procedure as he goes?"

Yeah, not so good, huh?


Okay, those are a bit extreme.

The answer is likely somewhere in between. 

We need to learn most things by learning, studying, researching, and executing. You can always ask questions of a more advanced or experienced hobbyist if you're stuck. However, don't always take the easy way out and just ask for the entire answer for a topic that's widely discussed everywhere, and then get all bummed out because no one is giving you every single concise answer. 

Don't be lazy. Do some of the work yourself. Avail yourself to the tons of hobby resources out there. But don't expect that the exact answer to your exact question is always easy to find. You need to dig. You might just learn more than you expected to!

Yes, we all get a bit frustrated looking for answers.

Like, I get it. I can't be totally without compassion on this topic!

Sometimes, we are excited and perhaps a bit overwhelmed at the apparent complexity of a new subject, but we're eager to learn. We just need a push in the right direction. I get that, and that's why, in our area of expertise, I'm always here to help. You'll find that most hobbyists and industry people will do the same....TO a point. And I encourage you to make use of such hobby resources when necessary.

However, for a small but noticeable sliver of the aquarium hobbyist population, there is this "thing" about taking even the slightest initiative to do some research. 

"C'mon Scott, it's hard. There's so much stuff out there. Besides, you understand this stuff. And I didn't grow up doing this..."

That's literally a "mashup" of some of the "feedback" I've received from people who asked tons of questions for which the answers were readily available. It makes me scratch my head.

I mean, Google, for example, is one of the greatest resources we've ever had as a species. It's so easy to use and so powerful that it can literally make one wonder if the library as we know it is simply a relic of a gentler, kinder era, perhaps having outlived some of it's usefulness as a "go-to" resource for knowledge (It hasn't IMHO, but you could argue that it has diminished just a bit in value for some...). To not use it is almost absurd in today's era.

Laziness is a shitty trait, IMHO. Don;'t be lazy. You're supposed to enjoy a hobby, right? You should WANT to do some research! 

The scariest things are when someone who appears to be operating in a more "advanced" area of the hobby asks a question about something frighteningly basic, like pH, water exchanges, the value of quarantining new fishes, etc. Stuff that's "Aquarium Keeping 101."  Like, ask yourself-why are you in the deep end of the pool if you can't even float?

You can do this. You can learn the fundamentals of the hobby, build upon them, and progress to more complex stuff. It's a matter of putting in some time and work. It doesn't have to be drudgery. 

Sure, people are there to help along the way. Resources are available...Yet you can't expect a grand "Aquarium Instruction Manual" with answers to 400,000 possible obscure questions on every single aspect of the hobby to just appear for you (Not yet, anyways...perhaps some day!).

And that's okay. The acquisition of knowledge  in the hobby is a journey to be enjoyed and savored- not reviled and loathed. Just take a deep breath, and read beyond the cute pic in that Instagram post...Dig to page 3 of a Google search if you haven't found the answer you're looking for just yet. It's there.

And  of course- always share what you know when you do figure it all out. Add to the body of knowledge in the hobby.


Just read the instructions...sort of-before you jump. It kind of works. Really!

So, I say to you: Search for knowledge. Ask questions. Execute. Learn from the experience. Share said acquired knowledge. Complain more, if you want, but you might actually find that you'll complain less when you just try stuff.

Stay courageous. Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay studious. Stay persistent...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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