Patience. Impulsiveness. The "long game." And everything in between.

Are you one of those people who loves to have stuff right now? The kind of person who just wants your aquarium "finished"- or do you relish in the journey of establishing and evolving your little microcosm? 

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but when it comes to the aquarium hobby...I find myself playing what is called in many endeavors (like business, sports, etc.) a "long game."

I'm not looking for instant gratification. I know that good stuff often takes time to happen. I'm certainly not afraid to wait for results. Well, not just sit around in the literal sense, mind you. However, I'm not expecting instant results from stuff. Rather, I am okay with doing the necessary groundwork, nurturing the project along, and seeing the results happen over time.

A "long game."

If you're into tropical fish keeping, it's almost a necessity to have this sort of patience, isn't it? I mean, sure, some of us are anxious to get that aquascape done, get the fishes in there, fire up the plumbing in the fish room, etc. However, we all seem to understand that to get good results- try satisfying, legitimate results- things just take time. Yeah, I'd love it if some "annual" killifish eggs hatched in one month instead of 7-9 months.

I wouldn't complain, but I do understand that there is the world the way it is; and the world the way we'd like it to be!

I've learned in the many years that I've been playing with blackwater tanks that the tank just doesn't get where you want it overnight. Initially, you'll see that burst of tint in the water, a tone, and see some of the materials you place in the tank breaking down, but for a while, your carefully conceived aquascape just looks like some wood with some leaves and seed pods thrown on the bottom, doesn't it? Perhaps almost "clinical" in appearance; not quite "there" just yet, huh?

We can scape well. We can manage the tank effectively; engage in best practices to keep it functioning and progressing in a healthy manner...But we cannot rush nature, right?

It simply takes time. Time for the bacterial and fungal populations to grow and soften the botanicals in your aquarium. Time for the water chemistry to stabilize. Time for the  aquascape to take on a more "mature", established look.

It's not really 100% in our control. 

Which is kind of cool, actually. There is that certain "randomness" about a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium- or ANY aquarium, for that matter- which makes the whole process just that more engrossing, if you ask me.

We just supply the patience.

Some of us are impatient, however..which begs the question:

Are you an “impatient fish geek?”

Be honest.

I ask that not to get some secret marketing data I can use to exploit your psychological weaknesses for my own nefarious purposes (hmm..but that does sound like an interesting idea..). Rather, I’m curious because, as I asserted above, I think that most hobbyists are not.

Usually. Okay, maybe- sometimes…


As aquarists, we’re taught that nothing good ever happens quickly in a fish tank, and I’d tend to agree with that. Most of us don't make really rash decisions, and go crazily into some tangent at the first sign of an anomaly (as we discussed yesterday..)

However, as consumers, I think us fish geeks do sometimes make things happen quickly with last-minute purchasing decisions! We tend to deviate just a bit from our normal patient attitude and "long game", and often go "off plan."

We get a bit...impulsive!

When I co-owned Unique Corals, I dealt with lots of hobbyists every day who were buying corals and fishes, and I was often surprised at the rather odd additional purchases that people make to “fill out” their orders- you know, to hit free shipping, get an extra piece of coral to share with a friend, or just to “scratch that itch” to try a new species…It happened just often enough to make me think that fish geeks are not necessarily impulsive, but that we are "strategic."

In other words, the purchase may not be something we would start our order with, but it "justifies" purchasing at the end in order to hit that free shipping number, etc.

Logical, on the surface, right?


However, being a lifelong fish geek and student of the "culture" of aquarium keeping, I think many of the reefers I dealt with really wanted that extra piece in the first place. A lot of times, they’d mention, in passing, at the end of an order or other conversation, “So, are those Montipora really that hard to keep in good color?” I got a sneaking feeling that they intended buy the coral anyways, and maybe just needed some "assurance" that it was a cool piece, or within their skill set to maintain, or something like that. The "impulse buy" was almost always something totally unrelated to their primary order (for example, 5 zoanthids, and then an Acropora added at the last second)! 

 So very like us fish geeks, isn’t it?


You see this at fish club raffles all the time- when the hobbyist who's bred like 300 species of fishes and swears that she's done trying new ones- ends up feverishly bidding for some obscure cichlid or characin in the heat of the moment- always done under the pretext of "helping the club out"-seemingly casting aside her "mandate" NOT to get any more fish! 

And then, of course, there are those of us like me, who are the polar opposite of this:


I recall driving my LFS employees crazy when I was younger, because I’d spend literally hours in the store, scrutinizing every aspect of a fish before I’d pull the trigger…or not (that must be why I drove ‘em crazy!). I would look at every fin ray, every gill movement…I’d look at every "twitch" and "scratch" the fish performed and correlate it with known disease symptoms versus regular behaviors for the said species…

I would sometimes even bring my reference material (like Axelreod’s or Baensch's books and maybe the early Albert Thiel stuff after the dawn of the “reef” age, notes from Bob Fenner’s books in my hand later on), and would just geek out.

Yeah. Weird.

Of course, I would second guess everything the LFS guy said because “the books” said otherwise, even though the employees worked with these animals every day of their lives. My first brush with aquarium-keeping “dogma”, I suppose.

I was a complete dork!

My, how things change! (well, the "dogma" part...I'm still a dork, I think...)


I knew at an early age that I’d never be an “impulsive fish geek."

I learned patience right away.

I think that in my case, it might have come about because, when you’re a kid, you have a 10 gallon tank and $5.67 in change that you’ve painstakingly saved for months to spend. You need to be absolutely sure of your purchases.

I was very thorough!

Even as an adult, with a 225-gallon tank, and much more money to spend, I still found myself doing the same thing (okay, maybe with my iPhone in tow, instead of some well-worn reference book).  

It could take me like a year to stock a 50 gallon tank fully...

You should see me when I go to the wholesalers here in L.A….it could take me half a day to pick like 5 fish. At Unique Corals, we worked with a lot of collectors and mariculturists overseas..However, we had built up personal relationships to the point where these guys more or less knew our tastes, and would often throw the fishes in the boxes with corals, so that was actually easier than going to the wholesaler’s facility! (well, better than sending ME there, anyways!)

This "anti-impulsive" thing isn't just limited to fishes, in my case...

Equipment choices are even more subject to analysis and absurd scrutiny, because hey- how often do you purchase a heater or a lighting system? ( OK, wait- don’t answer that). But seriously, when you’re sending the big bucks on a critical piece of life-support equipment, you want to get it right! One of the things I love most about the internet is that most sites will analyze the shit out of almost anything, from an algae magnet to a new aquarium controller. Useful stuff for many of us- essential for anal-retentive fish geeks like myself.

Of course, impulsiveness can permeate every aspect of being a fish geek, including setup and configuration of your tank. I may not be overly impulsive in terms of additions and purchases, but I CAN be "spur-of-the-moment" on tank decisions.

What exactly do I mean by “tank decisions?”

For example, I’ll be scraping algae or some other mundane maintenance chore in my tank and suddenly, I’ll notice a rock or driftwood branch that seems “not right” somehow…”Hmm, what if I move this guy over here…?” Of course, this almost always leads to a spontaneous “refreshing” of the aquascape, often taking hours to complete.  Somehow, I find this relaxing. Weird. So it’s entirely possible to be analytical and calculating on some aspects of aquarium keeping, and spontaneous on others.

I believe that this dichotomy actually applies to many of us.


And of course, there are aquarists who are entirely impulsive, which is why you see entire 200-gallon tanks full of every fish imaginable, with selections from all over the world poking out from every nook and cranny. (Or, as one of my hardcore "freshwater-only" friends asserted, "That's why there are reef tanks..." Ouch! ) Of course, I cannot, in all honesty, say anything truly negative about impulsive hobbyists because some of these types keep many of us in business, lol!


The "long game" is familiar to many of us...and of course, so is the love of the "impulse buy" or "quick-reconfigure." And of course, I couldn't resist analyzing the hell out of a seemingly arcane topic like this. After all, I am your "morning coffee" or "afternoon tea", as I've been told- right?

So, stay impulsive, while staying patient simultaneously...Stay crazy, motivated, fun-loving, adventurous, and just a bit weird.

Stay curious. Stay patient. Stay diligent... 

And of course,

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


January 29, 2018

When I first got into the hobby I was quite impulsive, but now that I have more experience and limited space I have learned to be more choosy. I can really appreciate the advantages of a thought-out, slow-burning setup that allows time for plants and microfauna to establish before introducing fish!

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