That fine line between insanity and genius...

Have you ever done something with your aquariums that everyone said was just nuts? More important, did you get away with it, or did you "crash and burn?" Did you at least try something that the “aquatic establishment” said could not be done, or SHOULD NOT be done? 

Wasn’t it fun?  Maybe even expensive?

Embarrassing, perhaps… 

But fun, right?

Did you try something “different” than what “they” say is the way to go?

I mean, something ill-advised, sort of crazy, off-the-wall, or just downright kooky? Or, did you act on one of those ridiculous ideas that someone threw out when tossing back a couple of brews with the gang after the conference or club meeting?

Something totally wild?

("Honey, look what I did in the living room while you were away!" )

 As one who has been known to take a few chances, go against prevailing “aquatic wisdom” (Hell, I created a company that sells leaves and twigs, right?), and generally push the outside of the envelope a bit (as well as encouraging others to indulge in similar foolhardy adventures), I have developed an unofficial “classification system” for such nonsense.

Yes, only I would actually study this ridiculousness. (And to think, some of the major freshwater aquarium conferences STILL shun me as a speaker! Wonder why? LOL)

Of course I’m going to share it with you, because it’s important for me to continue to nurture "disruptive" behavior. That’s what makes the hobby great, right? So, here we go, with the “Fellman Scale of Innovative Thought”:

Ill-Advised Ideas- I’m probably most guilty of this one, along with the majority of aquarists who dare ask the “establishment”, WHY? And not all of them are smart..I freely admit. Examples of this would be things like the time I was convinced that I could keep 4 Black Ghost Knifefish (my all-time fave fish) together in a 75 system without calamity or bloodshed. It was exacerbated, of course, because I went with mature specimens (like 5")…in an intricate wood and rock hardscape! After the days (yeah, DAYS, not weeks or months) went by, in addition to relentless territorial battles reminiscent of the tribal areas of Afghanistan, my prized fish collection was showing signs of, as one of my friends eloquently put it, “wear and tear…” 

You can imagine how fun it was to break down the aquascape  after I came to my senses and decided to end the grand “experiment.” Hey, this one was a product of my own arrogance, and I was really convinced at the outset of the experiment that I was to be THE ONE who could pull this off. 


But it was interesting.



Sort of Crazy Ideas- You DIY-types are usually more “guilty” of this one…You know, stuff like top-off systems that involve dosing supplements, surge devices in your living room, 4 chambered recirculating CO2 reactors, biofilm refugiums, homemade refrigeration systems for cold-water reef tanks, automatic frozen food dosers, etc. I mean, these ideas are usually pretty cool, and represent many of the great values that we have in the hobby (the independent spirit, adventure, the pursuit of knowledge..the desire to save a few bucks…) Some of these ideas are just a little too "advanced" for our skills, or perhaps there is really no inexpensive way to make an all-in-one-surge/autofeeding system for under $1,500USD. Well, maybe there is…And it’s just that kind of thinking that keeps the creative (well, you can call them “sort of crazy”) ideas flowing…


Off-The Wall Ideas- This is typically the realm of newbies..or even experienced reefers- who, because of their genuine innocence, love of the hobby, and/or “Why CAN’T it be done?” mindset, come up with some of the craziest ideas of all- and often execute them, albeit with mixed results. I think we should really consider them “outside the box” ideas, however. Ideas like Hydra “farms” for nutrient export, moss ball “reactors”, backyard seagrass propagation systems, multi-level gradient cryptic zone filtration systems, etc., which have a great theoretical effectiveness, yet may be challenging to apply in reality.

Nonetheless, it’s at this “level” that real hobby innovations often occur…Stuff like electronic monitors/controllers for aquarium functions, controllable internal pumps, breeding setups for fishes like Hillstream Loaches, all-botanical substrates etc.

Many great companies, both in and out of the aquarium hobby sector, were founded on just such a mindset. And, you’ll recall, it wasn’t all that many years ago that the idea of cutting up frags of coral to grow out on ceramic plugs seemed pretty “off-the-wall”, right?


("What a crazy idea...It'll never work!")

Downright Kooky Ideas- This is the type of stuff that gives our hobby the appearance of being a bit, well- eccentric- to outsiders. Stuff like converting indoor swimming pools to mini African Rift Lakes, 10 ml "ultra-pico reefs", creating an intertidal mangrove biotope with a 12-hour "tidal cycle", etc. etc. Look, I’ll be the first to tip my hat to the dreamers, free thinkers, and even the eccentrics among us. However, I’ve always been a bit of a realist…I mean, counterproductive, hurtful, and idiotic thinking is never in vogue. Yet, where would we be without the truly absurd stuff to give us some a) comic relief, b) measure of how serious we take this stuff, and c) ability to let our passions (and our checkbooks, all to often) run wild from time to time. Brainstorming is great…Bringing down the ideas from the “downright Kooky” region into the “Off-The-Wall” territory results- many times- in some of the best innovations that we have ever seen.

So, dear fishy friends, don’t be put off or led astray by “conventional” aquatic thinking, if there even is such a thing…Rather, allow your mind to wander, your passions to soar, your visions to take flight- and your dreams to come true. Don’t put them out with the “wet towel of negativity…” Rather, temper them and nurture them with the spirit of innovation. Keep those ideas flowing, visualize a way to make them become practical realities, and think about the greater good your developed dream will unleash upon the hobby. Disregard the spills, glued fingers, frayed nerves, short circuits, cracked aquariums, and occasional insurance claims,. Think of the bigger picture: The conquering of new worlds, the sharing of new ideas, and innovations as yet undreamed of, which will forever change the hobby for the better. 


I close with a classic quote, often attributed to the great Mark Twain (but supposedly not his...), which holds much relevance to this diatribe:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

So yeah, you should try.

Don’t shoot down that wacky, sleep-deprived, alcohol-induced idea that you and your buddies concocted at 3:30 AM at an ACA convention…even if it IS “Downright Kooky!”

You just might chance the hobby forever.

Let’s hear of your triumphs, tragedies, absurd ideas, and amazing innovations.

Stay creative. Stay unbridled. Stay open. Stay honest. Stay aware. And most of all… 

Stay Wet.



Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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