That fine line between "impulse" and "over-analysis"

Maybe it's just me? Or do we all agonize over fish stocking decisions?

Am I the ONLY hobbyist who makes the fish selection process so onerous, that getting confirmed to work as a Special Agent for the CIA might be easier?

Like, I go though all sorts of "mental gymnastics" over many of the fishes that I'll add-or want to add- to my community aquariums. And the points that I take into consideration when making these decisions are not just, "Will this fish get too large?" or "Can the tank environment support this fish?" or "Will there be aggression issues?" Or even, "Do I have the skills to keep this fish?"


Those are all excellent point to consider when contemplating new fish additions, of course...But I think about more esoteric stuff within those broader categories. Here are some recent examples:

* "Do I really want another benthic characin in this tank? Or any characin, for that matter? Will it compete for resources and territory with the other species? Will I even see it?"

* "That fish is attractive, but only when its in a spawning mode. Otherwise, it's a great fish with brown markings. Do I want another grey fish with brown markings?"

* "Is this fish going to be timid, taking more time to settle in before it begins to feed on prepared foods? Do I have enough supplemental food sources in the tank to carry it through this adjustment phase?"

And those are just the "sub issues" related to the actual physical addition of the fish into the aquarium ecosystem. Being the weird, overly-obsessed- about-esoteric-and-obscure-stuff kind of aquarist I am, will think of even more ridiculous things to factor into the mix:

* "Will this fish make the tank look too "busy" with it's foraging habits? 

* "Is it one of those annoying fishes that is overly enamored with its own reflection and constantly follows itself up and down the glass of the aquarium?" (you know exactly what I mean...)

* "Will I need to keep larger numbers of this fish to bring out the more natural behaviors in the fish? Do I want to add 8 more grey- brown fish in this tank, just so they can be comfy? 

* "What's the point in keeping this fish?" (Which of course, literally "reboots" the process yet endless data analysis loop...)

I mean, I get even weirder still, thinking through every possibility, concept, and even considering the paradoxes related to keeping a certain fish.

It's kind of one of those annoying habits some of us develop over the years...I think it's a result of growing up with fish tanks in my bedroom as a kid, and having a few small tanks, knowing that I couldn't keep even a fraction of what I wanted to I had to consider almost every possibility when contemplating any new addition to my collection. Every Neon Tetra. Every Zebra Danio...each fish was given the same consideration as if it were a rare, expensive African Rift Lake Cichlid or Asian Arowanna!

I think it was easier to secure a U.S. Supreme Court nomination or win an Oscar than it was to get a spot in my aquariums. The slightest issue could disqualify a fish from consideration...

This decision-making process did serve me pretty well- and continues to do so. But I think it also can result in my lack of a quick decision, which has cost me some opportunities to keep cool fishes of late...on multiple occasions, I might add. It got so bad, that for a while, my buddies hated going fish shopping with me (what a joke calling it "fish shopping"- they always came back with fish, I bought frozen food and carbon like 85% of the time...)

And it's cost me- this crazy "cautiousness", or whatever you want to call it...Cost me big-time.

Last year, for example, I was considering a Pleco. Not just any Pleco. It of course had to meet some of the stringent "admission requirements" for my tank! Like, it couldn't create too much disturbance on the bottom, as I have a lot of aquatic botanicals in nice positions in the aquascape, etc., etc. I also had a number of other fishes, such as my Spotted Headstanders (Chilodus punctatus) that tended to graze among these botanicals, and I didn't want there to be any conflict  for 'utilization' of this territory. I wanted to make sure that the species I chose wasn't completely algae-dependent, or required massive amounts of driftwood to chew on. And of course, it had to be a smaller one...blah, blah, blah.

I decided on the L134 "Leopard Frog" (Peckoltia compta) which seemed to tick all of the boxes. I read everything I could find on this species, surveyed my friends in the Pleco community (thanks, guys), and looked at it from every angle I could think of. And of course, this particular species is really friggin' hard to get! Thanks to one of my friends, I was able to source a nice specimen from a dealer with a great reputation right here in Southern California, no less! All I needed to do was pull the trigger and I'd have my "cat." So what did I do? I made the classic Fellman mistake of going on one more website...checking "just a few more facts" about the natural environment of the fish..did another mental "feasibility study" related to the aquascape I had for the fish to inhabit...

You know what happened, right?

Yeah, the fish sold in the couple of days I spent performing my absurd "mental gymnastics." Oh, sure, I eventually got one...after being burned by my own "cautiousness" on two other occasions! 


I wish I was one of those guys who could just look at a fish and be ready to strike when the opportunity arises...I have actually adopted a sort of "pre-analysis" strategy, whereby I go through all of this nonsense ahead of time, and just keep a mental "go list" that I can draw upon when one of my favored fishes becomes available.


And of course, this strategy can backfire, too. Once, I was literally seconds away from pulling the trigger on the acquisition of a few Crenuchus spilurus, the Sailfin Tetra- a fish that has literally been haunting my mind since childhood, when I recall seeing a pic and a charming description of it in my well-worn copy (handed down to me by my dad) William T. Innes' classic "Exotic Aquarium Fishes." 


So, here i was, ready to acquire the fish of my childhood! Closing the chapter on a lifetime obsession. A fish on my "go list" for like 30 years! And what did I do yet again? In the 11th hour, I went on Google and did...more research. Took another good hard look at this fish. And read somewhere that it's "Apistogramma-like" in its existence, environmental preferences, and behaviors. This immediately set off the "red flags" in the back of my mind, as I had a beloved pair of A. cacatuoides about to spawn in my tank...and did I really need to introduce 8 grey-brown "Apisto-ike" fish into the mix at this juncture? 

You know what happened next. A mental "hold" was placed on this acquisition until I was able to compete yet another "feasibility study" of the pros and cons related to getting the fish. And yet, deep down inside (or maybe not even THAT deep) I knew the real risk here: These fishes would be long gone by the time I came to a conclusion...and I was convinced at that point that it might be another 30 years before I had the chance to grab some again...

Fortunately, the stars aligned- and by "divine providence", excellent timing, or just plain old good luck, I was able to source them again, and I pulled the trigger...after decades, acquiring a group of these cool fishes. And of course, after having them for a while, I was like, "Why did I even hesitate?"

But my "analysis thing...?" Still there.

It's a blessing and a curse, I tell 'ya. It's kept me from some bad choices over the years. Yet, it's also prevented me from making some good ones!

It's nice to consider every aspect of the fish...but it's also a bit excessive in some cases. I know that there is a "happy medium" between impulsiveness and hyper analysis...I've just been spending the last several decades trying to hone in on it!

Until next time, don't be like me. Indulge your geekiness, but not at the expense of your long-term happiness. Be analytical, be strategic. Maybe even act a bit "impulsive" now and again. But don't be foolish.

Stay focused on what you really like. Stay excited, engaged, and...geeky.

And of course...


Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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