Stuff I suck at....

suck (sək)  verb -  to be bad at a particular subject or action. (source- Online Slang Dictionary)
It's kind of a pretty harsh word, I know...But it's a pretty descriptive one, indeed...

Ok, I’m man enough to admit this…

After literally a lifetime in the aquarium world, there are still some things that I’m flat-out afraid to do. Stuff that scares the daylights out of me.

Stuff that- well, let's just put it bluntly- I just SUCK at.

Now, in all fairness- some of these are challenging tasks and hobby skills for almost anyone- others are seemingly mundane, easy for most, yet have hidden difficulties that can sink your whole project…yeah.

And others...well, others are just things that, for one reason or another- I can't do very well.

Now, I also admit that there are some hobby things I do exceedingly well.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, every once in a while it's therapeutic for me to pull the stuff I completely suck at out from under the metaphorical rug, stare at it and just shudder...

Maybe we should all do this from time to time?

And there is a lot of it. I decided to just arrive at 7 things I suck at, and- well, it took some "editing" down to stop there!

Yeah, I had trouble narrowing it down to just 7 items (What 7? Supposedly some online content gurus say that 7 is like the optimum number of "points" for people to absorb in a blog. Whatever the fuck...)

Besides, you just can't read shit like this anywhere else on any other hobby blog or in any other article...Not that you'd want to, and not that any other author would want to write this kind of stuff, or even admit it. But hey...I'm keeping it real here! 

Here’s a list you can build on, I’m sure…(Well, I think I'm sure.)

So, in no particular order, here is my list of the top 7 aquarium-related things that I know I totally suck at; stuff that scares the proverbial crap out of me:

*Drilling aquariums- Glass, acryilc; doesn’t matter…The idea of taking a perfectly good aquarium, and using my extremely limited DIY skills to drill it out for a bulkhead, fitting- whatever, is a akin to performing an apendectomy on myself…ain’t gonna happen. I have friends who think NOTHING about doing stuff like this...Me? No freaking way, man. Strictly for professionals, IMHO, with experience, skill, tools…and liability insurance!

Why do people even take on this challenge themselves? Not only does it void the warranty on almost any aquarium made, it just opens you up to all sorts of scary possible outcomes. I mean, outcomes that may not even happen right away...they could occur at any time!

How do you people sleep at night? How do you ever go out of town without worrying about coming home to...well- the unthinkable? I mean, just the experience of installing and -gulp-tightening- a bulkhead into a hole drilled into my aquarium by someone else freaks me the fuck out! I mean- there's a LOT of water behind that bulkhead...And, hardwood flooring is really expensive!

*"Automatic" water changing systems- If I had a dollar/euro/bitcoin/whatever for every person I know who’s had a nightmare failure (ranging from minor leaks, to full-on flooding of a friend's multimillion dollar Hollywood Hills home) caused by "automating" water changes, I wouldn’t be slinging botanicals for a living. It's like, would you build your own airplane from scratch? 

Would you?

Top-off systems with limited reservoirs are one thing. I've got 'em, and I swear by 'em. No problem.

Fully automated systems hooked up to your house water supply and such are a whole different kind of scary.The mere thought of installing such a system in my home makes me shudder. Like, just pick up a siphon hose and sleep better at night. Or when you're out of town. Who is so busy that they can't spend 15 minutes taking care of their aquarium, right?

Besides, I love manual water changes. Really!

Siphon hoses- low tech toys  that they are- won't destroy your house.


*Building my own aquarium stand-  Seriously? Well, I- the guy who can't build a picture frame or assemble a piece of Ikea furniture without extra pieces left over, wouldn't even contemplate such an endeavor...and YOU shouldn't, either! Just fork over the money to a professional! Unless you have mad carpentry skills, this is another one that is just fraught with danger, IMHO.

I fully admire anyone who has those skills, and the courage to forge ahead on a project like that…and I will gracefully step aside and admire from afar. I mean, if you don’t get it perfectly right…flawlessly long will it be until the inevitable disaster? 

*Plumbing a reef tank- A HUGE one! Look, I’ve set up my Roku. Learned how to build an e-commerce website. Figured out how to make my own Pasta from scratch. I've got solid Fresh Press skills with coffeee...I mix a mean Tanqueray and Tonic., etc.- but few things intimidate me like trying to plumb stuff like return pumps, overflows, and protein skimmers. As a reefer, you have to do a certain amount of plumbing...most of you hardcore, freshwater-only guys probably don't get this...However, it just goes with the territory in reef keeping.

And I suck at it.

On the other hand, I've learned a few "hacks"- workarounds, if you will- which allow me to skirt some of this stuff! Why do you think I love sump-based skimmers so much? Drop the Motherfuckers in and away you go!  Yup. Calcium reactors, an essential piece of reef gear, are another one of those “ white knuckle” devices that I have had mixed results with over the years!  I mean, you have CO2, a plastic reactor, lots of plumbing connections...a perfect recipe for disasters of all sorts!

Cannister filters push the "outside of the envelope" for me. I mean, those cutoff valves and such are a pain I the ass, too. Don't even start me on glassware... When I DO execute plumbing, however, even for stupidly simple stuff- it's usually so over-thought-out and SO overbuilt that it's sort of humorous!

That's how reefers do it, 'yo.

*Retrofit Lighting Systems- Okay, I know I’m not alone in this one…Anything that involves wiring, light bulbs, and water is a recipe for "scary" in my book. I know a lot of you are pretty damn good at this stuff: "It's just twisting some wires and soldering a few connections..." Okay, yeah. Right.

Death by electrocution, vaporizing my cichlid collection, or flat-out burning down the house are all sort of bad outcomes, in my book. To me, it makes a helluva lot more sense to pay the extra few bucks for the completed lighting system, right from the manufacturer.  

Now, I love LEDs. At least with LED, you're way safer... I mean, I've dropped whole fixtures in the water before...(don't ask).

*Bagging fishes, plants, and corals-  This is a skill I simply go to great lengths to avoid ever acquiring.  I always did, Yeah, even though I was an owner of a company that sold coral frags and marine fishes, I sucked at bagging them. I sucked at it as a kid when I worked at the LFS, and I still suck at it. Like, I have "two left hands" or something…That’s why I had people that are really skilled with rubber bands to do the job! I hate it so much you can't believe it. In fact, HATE isn't a strong enough word.

Back in my  days as co-owner of Unique Corals, we'd be at major reef hobby shows (MACNA, RAP, etc.), breaking down our booth after a weekend of sales- re-bagging the unsold corals for the flight home, and I'd just sort of wander off and engage in discussions with...well- ANYONE I could find- to avoid bagging up frags!  

I'd go to any pathetic length to avoid bagging stuff. 

I'd make insane offers of "Buy 1 get 10 free!" or whatever at the close of a show to minimize the horror of re-packaging frags..

Like, sad.

Ahh, the "fake injury trick" was the best, though. It worked a lot! Of course, the joke was that everyone knew that I was full of shit but they were too kind to call me on my b.s., LOL. And, of course, being the boss had its advantages, too!

I'm not proud of this at all- I'm only admitting that I did it: On one occasion, a purposely let a minor cut on my finger bleed like crazy, just ridiculously- so that I could demonstratively show everyone that I was in no condition to bag up those dirty corals...Yeah. I did.  I  remember I squeezed my finger like mad to get as much blood out there from this paper cut as possible! Again, never mind that I was the boss, but...


Oh, I’m a demon on an impulse sealer or electric clip machine, but that is not quite as widely used..yet. So next time you see me at a show and need some help bagging stuff- I'll be the guy on the imaginary "important business call"- at 6 PM on a Sunday night...

Bagging fishes. Yuck. Hey, I’m honest- it’s the task I like the least in this industry. I suck. Bad. Like, really bad.

*Netting fishes from a display tank- Sure, it’s a fundamental skill we all need. Knowing I have to net a fish out of my display tank strikes fear into my heart, as well as that of the fishes I’m trying to catch. I am the kind of aquarist that believes that aquarium nets are purposely designed to snag on everything and not even catch fishes. And I never, EVER have the right-sized one for the job at hand available...Not that having the "right" net would result in a better sort of outcome, however... I even suck at netting out fishes in a bare holding tank! If I killed 3 fishes to get one of the 8 specimens the customer wanted, that was like a pretty damn good day!

I was literally the guy at the LFS that would be like,  "Do you really want THAT Tiger Barb? He looks kind of sick."  (Said while pointing to a perfectly healthy specimen. Yeah, I was evil. Well, hey, desperate times called for desperate measures, right?) At home, I fare no better. It pretty much always results in a wrecked aquascape, frayed nerves, and some seriously stressed-out fishes. I’ve found that, in recent years, I’m actually getting worse at this. Or so I tell myself. I mean, I didn't know it was even possible. Now, I honestly don’t know if my "skills" have deteriorated in recent years, or if I just never had ‘em..hmm?

Wait. Don't answer that.

Well, that's a brief run-down of aquarium-related stuff I suck at. Stuff I'm horrified of. It felt good to get those off my chest. Very therapeutic! And that represented some core aquarium-related skills, huh? Oh, there are plenty of other hobby-related things I suck at, trust me…and that could conceivably fill a book…hmm, nothing to be proud of, really, but hey, I own 'em!

 Anyways, I shared mine- let’s hear some of yours! I can't be the only aquarium person who sucks at multiple things in the hobby..or could I?

Never be afraid to laugh at your own foibles. Stay humorous. Stay dedicated to the craft. Stay sharp. Stay AWAY from stuff that could destroy life, ego, and property. Double down on what you're good at. Stay confident. 

We all suck at something, right?


Stay afraid of some stuff. Stay brave. Stay proud. Stay confident. Stay humble. Stay cautious...


And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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