New discoveries. Humility, and the wonder of trying something new.

One of the best things about the aquarium hobby is that there is a seemingly infinite amount of learning you can do. And an equally infinite amount of stuff you can try. I find this so incredibly fascinating and engrossing because we have so many options to do cool stuff!

As you may know by now, I’m one of those totally geeked-out hobbyists who plays with both fresh and saltwater. I’m even more weird, because when I started Tannin  Aquatics, I co-owned a company which propagated, imported, and distributed corals and marine livestock. 

It was remarkably challenging.

Yet, it was one of the most interesting and fun times in the history of Tannin Aquatics- and in my personal hobby experience. There was a ton to know, and lots of different moving pieces that we had to coordinate to run both businesses successfully. I love the reef hobby, yet the call of my "origins" in freshwater grew louder and louder every day, until eventually, it made sense to sell my interest in the marine business.

And I had-and have- absolutely no regrets, despite the disbelief that many of my reef-world friends and fellow vendors shared with me at my departure. They couldn't believe how I could walk away from the splashy, successful coral business and go full-force into a hyper-niche freshwater market segment that didn't even exist until we started it! 

Looking back on it now, I suppose it was kind of crazy...But the reality is that it was just so easy to do. I realized that my love of the botanical-style aquarium was so great, and the allure of getting people excited about this stuff was so irresistible, that I simply couldn't NOT jump!

So, I’d say that I’m fairly in tune with the hobby and the market, in a fair number of "segments."

Yet, even with that experience on "both sides of the salinity line", I am always a bit “rusty” on some of the equipment choices…Stuff changes so fast in the reef world. I was planning a new reef tank for next winter, and I was definitely a bit out of the loop! Even within the reefing world, I guess being in my “livestock bubble”  left me a bit  myopic and hyper-focused on one aspect of the reef aquarium hobby. I can tell you all about what coral comes from where and grows in such-and-such a fashion, and what kinds of water parameters are best for growth, blah, blah…I used that knowledge daily for years.

But when it comes to the “latest and greatest” hardware, I’m a bit…humbled.

Oh sure, I’m up on the latest technology and concepts,  and I know who makes what,  but if you ask me who makes the best protein skimmer or LED light, and why, I might not have a tremendous depth to my answer. I know what works for us on a commercial level, and these are dramatically different products than I’d use on my home system. “I know what I know”, I suppose…

Staring at manufacturer’s websites and reading about “bluetooth-enabled" this-and-that made my head spin. Honestly. I mean, somewhere along the line, super high technology just settled into the reef keeping game- and the freshwater game, too- for the betterment of the hobby. But wow, in just a few years, things have changed a LOT! Seems like you have to be an expert at things like computers, cell phones, and home electronics just to grasp how some of this stuff works and what it actually can do!

It was kind of…well- humbling… It made me realize that, even after a lifetime in the aquarium hobby, you simply can’t know everything there is to know- even in your chosen fave specialty area. Sometimes, you DO need to rely on “experts” in other aspects of the aquarium field. 

And there’s really nothing wrong with that!

Not too long ago, (well, "pre-pandemic", so it WAS a while back), a reefer buddy and I ran out to our favorite LFS for the time-honored tradition of looking for fish for our (freshwater) aquariums. My friend was looking for Tetras and livebearers, and I was focused on finding a pair of Apistogramma.

When we were browsing the FW section, we had more than just a working knowledge of these fishes, but the reality was that we were  both woefully “out of practice”, so to speak, on some of the finer points of fish morph ID, etc. We did what everyone does- we relied on the guys at the shop to steer us in the right direction!

And it was a great experience!

Humbling, but incredibly enjoyable. Humbling, because I was pretty well-known as an author, lecturer, and "authority" In the reef world, but I was a complete unknown in this world. It's easy to become full of yourself;f in this hobby! Fortunately, despite my "celebrity" status in the reef world, I never really thought much of the accolades and position of perceived "expert" I had.

The transition woke me up a bit! And made me realize that you simply can't know everything about everything!

Freshwater is no different to me than the hyper-focusing we do in reef keeping on things like Acros, Zoanthids, and Chalices. You just need to listen, learn- immerse yourself in the “culture” a bit. When haunting some of the planted tank forums and specialty discussion groups (like cichlids, livebearers, and killies), I often come to the realization that there is so much knowledge out there that it’s almost impossible to absorb it all.

Everyone thinks that reef people are so sophisticated (trust me, I can prove otherwise in many cases!). I mean, sure, some are. And for some reason, the reef hobby sees freshwater people as humble, simple folks...Nothing could be further from the truth. It's so weird that people think this. I am frequently blown away by the sophistication of freshwater hobbyists- breeders and the planted tank people…I mean, high tech planted tanks make running a reef tank look comparatively simple. And you people who breed some of the crazier cichlids and catfishes- you’re on a whole different level.

It’s all amazing, IMHO.

After "crossing back over" to freshwater, in addition to being humbled by the awesome amount of “stuff” there is to know in the aquarium world, I was struck by a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that I haven’t felt in years…It’s fun to learn about all of these new (to me) things. For everyone- there are products, procedures, trends, and “experts” in specialty areas of the hobby that are completely unknown to us before we jump in…how cool is that?

And freshwater has a seemingly endless number of unusual speciality niche areas to learn and enjoy.

These people have decades of experience with say, South American Cichlids- or even more obscure- the genus Amphilophus, for example. Etc., etc., etc. To know what they know, you simply have to DO stuff for a long time…Or you can humbly ask those who know and LISTEN- then do your own followup research-just like in the reef world. Sure, you can learn a lot by reading, and more by asking-but in the end, you have to DO stuff in order to get the valuable experience. You can literally spend a lifetime trying new stuff in the aquarium hobby!

At Tannin, you've seen us “enabling” fellow aquarists with new concepts- like "Urban Igapo" systems, leaf-litter-only aquairums, botanical-style brackish tanks, etc.- things that challenge the skills we’ve developed in our “fish careers”, and compelling us to acquire and develop new ones!

That, to me, is what the hobby is all about. Pushing.

My advice, if you find yourself in a “rut”, looking for something to get you mentally “back in the game?”

Do something, anything- that gets you mentally engaged in a new aspect of the hobby. Do some research, seek out advice of others with experience in those fields, and then…to coin a phrase from an old Nike campaign- Just DO It.

With an almost infinite amount of stuff to learn, and enormous resources at our fingertips, including friendly, experienced hobbyists-there has never been a better time to embark on new journeys in the aquarium hobby.

Yes, the usual caveats about "taking people’s advice with a grain of salt" apply here, but with the proper attitude, and the willingness to be humble and “new” at something again, the possibilities for enjoyment in the aquarium hobby are as vast as the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world.

Think about that.

Have a great week, play with your fishes, spend time with your families..Try something new...

Stay brave. Stay open-minded. Stay curious. Stay excited. Stay humble.

And Stay Wet!




Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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