Straight talk...

Okay, you do this sort of blogging/business thing long enough, you formulate some serious opinions. And of course, I've been doing this stuff a long time, and I definitely have opinions (I know that SHOCKS some of you...).  In fact, I am probably too opinionated for my own good. And sharing it widely often gets me into trouble, but, hey.

I mean, I'm the guy with all of the weird ideas, so...

Over the years, in my little clique of fish geeks, I've sort of developed the reputation of being everyone's fish-keeping confidant. Call me nurturing, or whatever, right? And, doing this blog/podcast, running Tannin, and getting out there on social media have only sort of amplified this sort of "Scott is availabile" thing.

I know a lot of you turn to me for advice, discussion...a shoulder to cry on...and for botanicals and stuff, too (well, that's a good thing!). And I'm privileged to do it- and always happy to help when I can. Like Mary Poppins, most of my advice is dispensed with a "spoonful of sugar", and it goes down fairly easily, if not, on occasion, controversially.

Of course, there are times when I need to be more blunt and, well- direct.

Today's blog is actually based on a "request" a reader made, wanting me to touch on some of the things in the aquarium hobby that I personally feel most strongly about.  This is always dangerous. 😆 Yeah, I'm sure that many of you will probably think I'm a bit "off" on some of them, and maybe spot on about others. You might even wonder why these things concern me at all, lol.

Yeah, I'm usually pretty easy going.

Lately, however, I've taken a somewhat more "realistic" approach to the hobby, realizing that sugar-coating our own follies and giving the typical "warm fuzzy" isn't always what you need. I realized, both in my personal practice, and in the "advice" I've been dispensing to fellow hobbyists of late, that I've had to take a more pragmatic approach to really do everyone some good.

So the tone of this piece might be a bit more- ahem, "blunt" than what you're used to from me. On the other hand, it's formulated to be helpful, not patronizing, and that means we sometimes all have to get some "tough love" in order to progress in the hobby. It's a distillation of advice sifted from a whole lot of emails and phone calls I've received over the past several years, peppered with a sprinkling of recent personal experience and pinch of "lockdown fever."

So here goes... In no particular order:

Some tough love on aquascaping...

Respect negtive space.

Hobbyists seem to think that you have to fill every available centimeter of your tank with "stuff." Not sure where this comes from, but we see it all the time. I see so many aquascpes that are just packed with stuff...Sometimes it looks cool, in context. Other times, it's just - well...too much. Please...keep some “negative space” in the layout somewhere. Not just for aesthetics…I mean, yes, you should have some open space not covered by plants., rocks, leaves, etc..

Why? For several reasons: One, it gives you existing plants a chance to spread out and grow. Second, it DOES have a good aesthetic thing going for it…We all like to allow our eyes a place to rest from the busy “fruit-stand” appearance of a typical planted aquarium.  Or hardscape, for that matter. And finally, having some extra space gives you room to…expand your collection, if you want! To be a bit "impulsive" (after due consideration for the merits of the fishes or plants that you're considering, of course). Oh, and if you have to glue your wood together to get it to stay, I call bullshit. Gravity or bust. Yeah, that’s right..I said it! (oh, a bonus "micro-rant!")

SO...leave some open space in your tank. You can have some room for future impulse buys! A salute to consumerism (and of course, a tip of the hat to livestock vendors out there!).

Then again, my most loved aquascape (as "voted" by YOU guys) pretty much destroys this f- ing assertion, huh? I mean, it's like, filled! 

Damn it.

So, maybe that whole last one was kind of a waste, WTF?...Sigh. But, think about it...

Okay, here's another one:

Ditch really bad ideas…quickly.

Yup, kind of like the Facebook corporate mantra of “move fast and break things”, I think it’s time we let stuff go that doesn’t work. Life it too short. I am not saying to disregard patience (Lord knows, I’ve written a ton about that over the past few years right in this blog). All I’m saying is that you need to let go of ideas that simply aren’t working out, taxing time, energy, money, space, and “mind power.”

Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all…but better to let something that was failing die a quick death than to have it function as a “black hole” of your hobby energy (and budget!). Harsh words coming from me, but they’re true. If it doesn’t work- Kill it. KILL IT! (

(It didn't work. Move on. Next...)

Seek advice and counsel from other hobbyists, but don’t take anyone’s word as THE ultimate. Because the reality is, there is plenty to learn in this hobby from a lot of people. And from yourself, as well! There are people out there in Fish Keeping Land doing stuff you never even heard of, and maybe they are having great results. Does that mean you should listen to everything they say and try to replicate their efforts to the last detail, or embrace all of their philosophies?

Of course not. No way. Take everything- from everyone in this hobby- with a grain of salt. Learn to evaluate aquarium keeping strategies in the context of “Will this work for ME?” Far better than to just blindly follow ANYONE.

Do you.

"There is only one way..glorious conformity to MY way..." (Remember the classic Apple "1984" commercial? Greatest ad message ever, says this Mac lover. Yeah.)



This one is a bit tough. And perhaps not all that wise to be talking about in the middle of this horrible global pandemic, yet it really rings true. I apologize in advance if anyone is offended by this one- it certainly isn't intended to do that, or be "tone deaf" in the middle of this tragedy. 

However, it's an important message for hobbyists that I think we can understand in this new world of "shelter in place."

If a fish or coral looks bad, and might be sick, or even dying- get it out of the display tank…Yeah- that sounds bad, and it almost sounds like I'm endorsing a "euthenasia" of sorts for fish that don't "look good." I'm not. Don't get it twisted here.  I'm not talking about "getting rid of" ugly fish, or sick fish. And, "ugly" is different than "unhealthy!"  I'm talking about taking action- removing the afflicted animal/plant/coral for treatment. Take all necessary measures to save it.

And soooo many of us take this attitude that fish, corals, or plants will somehow "spontaneously heal" themselves in the display tank...It almost never happens. And the risk of infecting the healthier animals in the aquarium is just too great. Tell yourself that. 

I remember from the coral farming game, that, if you had a struggling coral frag that might have had flatworms, red bugs, or some other pest or disease, you couldn't risk letting it take down other frags and needed to remove it from the system ASAP. Sometimes, you have to make the tough call and not play "Florence Nightingale" to a struggling fish or coral (BUT not while it's in the holding tank or a display). The risks to the rest of the community are too great, IMHO. Collateral damage from meds to healthy specimens from the "treatments" is a very real and problematic thing. Take it out and treat it, while observing the others for signs of the malady.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one…” (OMG did I just quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek? Yeah, I did.)

Treat sick fishes outside of the display aquarium whenever possible.

And when it comes to just "doing stuff...."

If you want something on your tank done right…do it…the right way! Yeah. Doesn’t matter if you’re the guy/gal doing it, or if you hire someone else. Just make sure it’s done correctly. I’ve seen so many people put time and effort into fish projects that were not only doomed to fail, but they simply couldn’t work by virtue of design, function, or even budget. or, they take a "shortcut" or employ a "band aid" and figure they'll "fix it/remodel it/upgrade it later" approach.  And they never seem to. And the poorly-executed thing lingers on and on in the system, like a slow-growing cancer.

This sort of dovetails with my third point about killing bad ideas

Okay, it’s an addendum, really: If you’re not going to do something the right way, just don’t bother. Really. It sounds negative, I know- but you’ll be much happier in the long run, trust me. I see this in reef-keeping all the time. Example: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard reefers tell me that “(Insert product or regimen here) doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. It sucks.” Upon further investigation, it turns out that the reefer was using the product, but either not in the correct manner, or only part of it, if it was intended to be used as part of a "system.".

You hear that a lot with regimens like trace element supplementation and carbon dosing, two-part solutions, etc. And it's the same in freshwater systems: If you’re using a regimen or system that needs to have multiple components or systems working together, use them! Don't "edit", for goodness sake.! At least not until you've tested and verified effectiveness or lack thereof, for a long time. You can’t expect a complete result out of a partial effort.

Oh, and a final thought on "doing stuff"
Some things you just shouldn't do yourself. Like building aquarium stands or the aquarium itself, if you don't have the tools, time, and necessary skills. But you need things done correctly regardless of who does them! Doing it right the first time is always the "best way!" Expensive or otherwise- it's always more costly to fix the mistake made by going cheap the first time. And yeah, it's okay to pay for stuff that you can't do yourself. Really.

Yikes, it was much quieter and less annoying when I was writing about leaves and stuff, huh? Glad I got this out of my system, though!

Today’s  "bitch-slap" of cold reality, courtesy of your local fish keeping enfant terrible.!

I'm sure you have many other examples; feel free to share them in this safe space! 🤓

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday... Be kind to each other. Have some fun…Be safe.

Stay healthy. Stay engaged. Stay focus. Stay grateful. Stay excited...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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