Telling it like it is...


Ever get this urge to- well, sort of speak your mind, or whatever?

That's kind of where I'm at today. It's not that it's bad or anything...just rather..blunt. As you might imagine, I receive a lot of questions about a lot of different things. And many of them require some introspection and thought. Others require me to do some research.

Still others make me draw on my experience and rather slanted opinion, and simply share those thoughts I've had about the hobby from a lifetime in it. Some of them are pretty direct. Almost "tough love" sorta. And, yeah. There is just no sugar-coating some of this stuff. I’m gonna tell it like it is. Some of the questions I receive simply require a direct answer.

Oh, man.

Here are some of my favorites:


If it’s dying- get it out of the tank…Yeah- that sounds bad, and it almost sounds like I’m endorsing a “euthanasia”of sorts.. I’m not. I admit, however, that it does sound harsh. I’m not endorsing “terminating” sick fishes…I AM endorsing the idea of getting them out of the display aquarium to a treatment tank…fast! Before they can infect others, if that’s possible.

NEWS FLASH: A sick fish won’t “spontaneously cure itself” without some intervention on your part…”wishing” things will get better doesn’t work. Trust me. I’ve tried. You need to be decisive and move aggressively to curtail the problem. It doesn’t rule out compassion. It just means you need to be decisive. I credit this decisiveness to my years spent in the coral farming game. When you grow corals in a propagation system, if you have a struggling frag that might have flatworms, "red bugs", or some other pest/disease, you simply can't risk letting it take down other frags. That’s your business, right there. And its the same in a display freshwater tank, IMHO. Remove sick or dying fishes and plants immediately. You HAVE to. ’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.)

Keep some “negative space” in the rock and wood work your tank. Not just for aquascaping…I mean, yes, you should have some open space not covered by rocks and wood. Why? For several reasons. One, it gives your 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 packed aquarium.

Let’s be honest, even with all of the emphasis on artistic, competition-oriented aquascapes, you still see plenty of tanks so packed with plants that the fish can hardly turn around. I mean, the fishes are the afterthought. It’s like “tiring” to look at, IMHO. And finally, having some extra space gives you room to…expand your collection! Yeah, that’s right..I said it! You can have some room for future impulse buys! A salute to consumerism (and of course, a tip of the hat to my fellow aquatic vendors!).

 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 tell ourselves to let stuff that doesn’t work go. Life it too short. I am not saying to disregard patience (Heaven knows, I’ve written a crapload about that over the past few years right in this forum). 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! 

Seek advice and counsel from other hobbyists, but don’t talk anyone’s word as THE ultimate. Because the reality is, there is plenty to learn in this hobby from a lot of people. There are people out there in “Aquarium-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, or embrace all of their philosophies without question? Of course not. No way. Take everything- from everyone in this hobby- even me-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. 

If you want something on your tank done right…do it…the right way? Yeah. Doesn’t matter if you’re the guy doing it, or if you hire someone else. Just make sure it’s done correctly. Forget ego or pride. Even the thought of saving “a few dollars (or pounds or Euro) by doing it yourself when you simply don’t have the time, skill, interest, or knowledge is, IMHO sort of problematic. Trial and error is educational in this hobby,  but only to a point. I’m not saying don’t push yourself or acquire new skills. I’m just saying not to make your “learning curve” part of your new “dream tank” build! The money you think you’ll save by doing it yourself when you’re ill-prepared is often absorbed quickly when you end up having someone re-do it for you the second time. FACT. 

I’ve seen so many people put time and effort into aquatic projects that were not only doomed to fail, but they simply couldn’t work by virtue of design, function, skill, or even budget. 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 and kind of not-so-nice, I know- but you’ll be much happier in the long run, trust me. "Half-assed" is just stupid.

Oh, and in defense of some product lines: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard aquarists tell me that “(Insert product here) doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. It sucks.” Upon further investigation, it turns out that the aquarist was using the product, but either not in the correct manner, or using it without other components of what was intended to be an integrated system. If you’re using a regimen or system that needs to have multiple components or systems working together, use them! You can’t expect a complete result out of a partial effort.

Okay...that's pretty much enough for now. A whole lot of "directness" at one time!

I told you this might not be easy to take, but I think there are a few pearls of wisdom there for you from my lifetime of fish keeping…and mistakes!



Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay consistent. Stay alert. Stay honest...


And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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