Mixing and matching...and spinning!

I had a nice chat this weekend with one of our cool community members, Mike Bognich. I love chatting with Mike because not only does he go for it and try all sorts of cool experiments- he doesn't do things in the hobby to please others- he does things he likes; for the share joy of the game. The kind of hobbyist everyone admires.

We were talking about different fishes that we were into, and how I want this and that but couldn't keep them in the same tank, etc.  And, when I put down the laptop at the end of the conversation, I was thinking to myself, like, "Damn, Fellman- you need to lighten up a bit..."

Time to confess. I admit, I'm a pain in the butt. And as an aquarist, as in other areas of my life, I'm no different. I have had this issue ever since I was a young adult aquarist about...well- I"ll just come out and say it:

I have this...problem...mixing fishes from different geographical regions in an aquarium. No, I'm okay with a very generic "South American", "Asian", or "African" combos...sort of hypocritical, I know...Like, Peru and Brazil are the same place, right? How perfectly ignorant a viewpoint... Well, what I have been unable to do in recent years is bring myself to keeping a tank with say, South American characins, Asian Danio, and riverine cichlids from Africa...you know, a community aquarium in the more traditional sense. And maybe, even keeping "domesticated" strains of some of them...You know, 'cause they're nice-looking!

What's the harm in that?

It's insane. And annoying. Like, I don't know where this came from. I mean, sure, keeping fishes from specific geographical regions, like just from the Orinoco or from Malaysia or whatever, is cool. I could blame someone. I could easily blame Axelrod or Bleher or Amano...Yeah... It's their fault. Well, no- it's my own hangup. And it's not totally wrong: There are many possible advantages from keeping groups of fishes which naturally evolved and/or occur with each other in specific habitats.

However, when one looks at it simply, what is the problem with keeping, say, Rasbora and Pencilfishes in the same tank? They're both cool, peaceful fishes that would look super together? They both like soft, acidic blackwater and come from similar habitats in nature, right?

I mean, I love them both dearly, think they'd get along just fine, and can easily keep and even breed member of both groups. Let's face it, if they occurred on the same continent, it's highly likely that they'd even be found together, huh?

It's not like I'm talking about mixing a predatory Asian fish with a tiny South American Tetra or something, right? We're just talking about different compatible fishes from different parts of the world.

And the irony is that both were probably bred on a commercial fish farm in Florida or something, right?


And I'll go the LFS or peruse the selection of my fave online vendors, and I'll see some amazing West African cichlids, and think to myself how cool they'd look with a large shoal of Hyphessobrycon from South America, accompanied by, say, some Asian loaches...

Yeah, I just described the classic community aquarium- the staple of the hobby for a century! The concept that's gotten a million kids worldwide to start playing with their first aquarium! I did this for years growing up. I DO IT AS A REEFER ALL THE TIME too! (that's a weird issue- it's somehow okay for me to have a Royal Gramma from the Caribbean in my Indo-Pacific-dominated reef display...) And the sky doesn't fall down and everything works.

Yet, when faced with the chance to bend the rules in my freshwater "practice", I choke.

And I feel so..dirty when I think about it...Like a naughty little kid who knows he took the cookies from the cookie jar when mom was vacuuming the house. I mean, in my mind, it's like I'm only a few steps away from tossing in the turquoise-colored gravel and "Sponge Bob" ornament...well, in my book, anyways!


And like, who am I trying to please? Who's "approval" am I seeking? I'm the original "I don't-give-a-f----" aquarist, preaching everyone to "do you" and not care about the views of the "ignorant masses" and arrogant contest judges- YET- I can't seem to get over my own hangups about doing this!


And the saddest part about it is that it's kept me from keeping some incredible fishes over the years. It's made me literally pass on numerous opportunities to obtain some of the fishes I really wanted/sought after for years, simply because I've placed this strange, hard-to-completely-justify restriction upon myself, and didn't have an extra aquarium available to house them, even though I had a perfectly good (for example) "Southeast Asian-themed" tank that could definitely accommodate the small group of Hemmigramus hyanuary that I stumbled upon...I mean, they sort of look like a Rasbora species to the uninitiated, right?

No one will know; I could just...nope. Not happening.

I stop myself. I stop myself and correct myself, and commend myself for "keeping it real" and not bending...

Then I go home and look at my tank and think to myself, "Dude, you totally could have accommodated those 8 fishes in the tank and the Gouramis wouldn't care less..."

Like, WTF?

And plants? Does my absurdity apply to them? 


Couldn't care less. In my view, they're all green or red and look kind of like you could take one out of a stream in South America, plop it into a stream in Asia, and it would look just fine. 

Hypocrisy. Yup.

And you haven't even seen yet how the dichotomy of inconsistency applies to my brackish tank in the office. 


So hear's the dea...If I say it publicly, maybe I'll be able to pull it off:

I think I need to ditch this once and for all. I need to lighten up and stop thinking of myself as having to comply with some "universal restriction"- as if I was chosen by divine forces to "keep the code" or something. As if I were truly breeding every fish I keep and HAD to keep things "pure" or something. 

And it's not like I have a 120-tank fish room where I have the luxury of purchasing any fishes I want and housing them in their own tank...

So, unless I commit to a huge fish room, (hmm, that could be cool...!), I think it's time to ditch this several-decades-long "issue."

Besides, I just found a breeding pair of Nanochromis splendens that would look so nice with my Cardinal Tetras. And that Leopard Ctenopoma would be super cool with my L134...

Must...overcome...have to...

Am I alone in my absurdity? I'd love to know.

In the mean time...

Stay true to yourself. Stay honest with yourself. Stay engaged. Stay obsessed.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


3 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

May 08, 2017

Don- only a fish geek would do that! Love it!

Gerard, yes, those fun little ornaments are awesome to draw kids in.. I had a few myself back in the day! Of course, in the context in which I brought it up, I was trying to draw a parallel to the almost blind enthusiasm you have when you’re a kid.. helps you move beyond “adult” hang-ups, for sure!


Don Allan
Don Allan

May 08, 2017

Side note about tannins…I believe I am officially hooked. We’ve been on vacation this week in Puerto Rico and every where I’ve been I have found leaves or seed pods..bring them back to the room and put in hot water to check for tannins. Got a fig from a Banyan tree I will sprout when I get back also

gerard brostek
gerard brostek

May 08, 2017

I like the Spongebob decorations in your blog. These are great ways to introduce young people to the wonderful aquarium hobby. The kids who have 2 goldfish and some Spongebob decorations today will be the ones breeding discus in the future and will be the ones with 120 gallon reef tanks.

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