The perfect blend of impulsiveness and patience?

The aquarium hobby gives a lot to us, and demands a lot from us.

It'll challenge your skills, demand your knowledge, and tantalize your senses. And of course, it will test your patience. And the botanical-style aquarium that we favor- it's a real test of all of our discipline.

It's not an "instant gratification" sort of thing, right? It requires us to apply enormous patience.

This is, of course, something that we've discussed many times before, but it deserves yet another look.

Are you one of those people who loves to have stuff right now? The kind of person who just wants your aquarium "finished"- or do you relish the journey of establishing and evolving your little microcosm? 

I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and postulate that you're part of the latter group.

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but when it comes to the aquarium hobby...I find myself playing what is called in many endeavors (like business, sports, etc.) a "long game."

I'm not looking for instant gratification.

I know-we all know- that good stuff often takes time to happen. I'm certainly not afraid to wait for results. Well, I'm not just sitting around in the "lotus position", either- waiting, anyways. However, I'm not expecting immediate results from stuff. Rather, I am okay with doing the necessary groundwork, nurturing the project along, and seeing the results happen over time.

Yeah, that's a "long game."

If you're into tropical fish keeping, it's almost a necessity to have this sort of patience, isn't it? I mean, sure, some of us are anxious to get that aquascape done, get the fishes in there, fire up the plumbing in the fish room, etc. However, we all seem to understand that to get good results- truly satisfying, legitimate results- things just take time. Yeah, I'd love it if some "annual" killifish eggs hatched in one month instead of 7-9 months, for example, but...

I wouldn't complain, but I do understand that there is the world the way it is; and the world the way we'd like it to be!

I've learned in the many years that I've been playing with blackwater tanks that the tank just doesn't get where you want it overnight. Or even after a week or two... Initially, you'll see that burst of tint in the water, an "earthy vibe", and see some of the materials you place in the tank breaking down, but for a while, your carefully conceived aquascape just looks like a stack of wood with some leaves and seed pods thrown on the bottom, doesn't it?

Perhaps almost "clinical" in appearance; not quite "there" just yet, huh?

We wait for Nature to do some of the work...

We can scape well. We can manage the tank effectively; engage in best practices to keep it functioning and progressing in a healthy manner...But we cannot rush Nature, right?

It simply takes time.

Time for the bacterial and fungal populations to grow and soften the botanicals in your aquarium. Time for the water chemistry to stabilize. Time for the  aquascape to take on a more "mature", established look.

It's not really 100% in our control. 

Which is kind of cool, actually.

There is that certain "randomness" about a botanical-style aquarium- or ANY aquarium, for that matter- which makes the whole process just that more engrossing, if you ask me.

We, as hobbyists, just need to supply the patience.

Some of us are impatient, however..which begs the question:

Are you an “impatient fish geek?”

Be honest...

I ask that not to get some "secret marketing data" that we can use to exploit your psychological weaknesses for my own nefarious purposes (hmm..but that does sound like an interesting idea..). Rather, I’m curious because, as I asserted above, I think that most hobbyists are not.

Usually. Okay, maybe- sometimes…

As aquarists, we’re taught that nothing good ever happens quickly in a fish tank, and I’d tend to agree with that. Most of us don't make really rash decisions, and go crazily into some tangent at the first sign of an anomaly...

That encapsulates many of us as hobbyists.

However, as consumers, I think us fish geeks do sometimes make things happen quickly with last-minute purchasing decisions! We tend to deviate just a bit from our normal patient attitude and "long game", and often go "off plan."

We get a bit...impulsive!

When I co-owned a coral propagation facility, I dealt with lots of hobbyists every day who were buying corals and fishes, and I was often surprised at the rather odd additional purchases that people make to “fill out” their orders- you know, to hit our free shipping level, get an extra piece of coral to share with a friend, or just to “scratch that itch” to try a new species…It happened just often enough to make me think that fish geeks are not necessarily impulsive, but that we are "strategic."

In other words, the purchase may not be something we would start our order with, but it "justifies" purchasing at the end in order to hit that free shipping number, etc.

Logical, on the surface, right?

Yeah. Totally.

However, being a lifelong fish geek and student of the "culture" of aquarium keeping, I think many of the reefers I dealt with really wanted that extra piece in the first place.


A lot of times, they’d ask, in passing, at the end of an order or other conversation, a seemingly innocuous question, like, “So, are those Montipora really that hard to keep in good color?” I would a sneaking feeling that they intended buy the coral anyways, and maybe just needed some "assurance" that it was a cool piece, or within their skill set to maintain, or something like that. The so-called "impulse buy" was almost always something totally unrelated to their primary order (for example, 5 zoanthids, and then an Acropora added at the last second)! 

 So very like us fish geeks, isn’t it?

You see this at fish club raffles and auctions all the time- when the hobbyist who's bred like 300 species of fishes and swears that she's done trying new ones- ends up feverishly bidding for some obscure cichlid or wild livebearer in the heat of the moment- always done under the pretext of "helping the club out"-seemingly casting aside her "mandate" NOT to get any more fish! 

And then, of course, there are those of us like me, who are the polar opposite of this...

I vividly recall driving my LFS employees crazy when I was younger, because I’d spend literally hours in the store, scrutinizing every aspect of a fish before I’d pull the trigger…or not (that must be why I drove ‘em crazy!). I would look at every fin ray, every gill movement…I’d look at every "twitch" and "scratch" the fish performed and correlate it with known disease symptoms versus regular behaviors for the said species…


I would sometimes even bring my reference material (like Axelreod’s or Baensch's books and maybe the early Albert Thiel stuff (after the dawn of the “reef” age), and notes from Bob Fenner’s books in my hand later on, and would just geek out.

Yeah. Weird. Like, super geeky.

But, helpful.

Of course, I would second guess everything the LFS guy said because “the books” said otherwise, even though the employees worked with these animals every day of their lives. My first brush with aquarium-keeping “dogma”, I suppose, and it was an example of a certain type of stubbornness that I've since abandoned.

I was a complete dork!

My, how things change! (well, the "dogma" part...I'm still a dork, I think...)


I knew at an early age that I’d never be an “impulsive fish geek."

I learned patience right away.

I had no choice. 

I think that in my case, it likely came about because, when you’re a kid, you have a 10-gallon tank and $5.67 in change that you’ve painstakingly saved for months to spend. You have to make every dime count.

You need to be absolutely sure of your purchases.

I was very thorough! Like, obsessively so.

Even as an adult, with a 225-gallon tank, and much more money to spend, I still found myself doing the same thing (okay, maybe with my iPhone in tow, opened to or what not, instead of some well-worn reference book).  

I guess I'm at the other extreme.

It can take me like a year to stock a 50-gallon tank fully...

You should see me when I go to the wholesalers here in L.A….it could take me half a day to pick like 5 fish. At Unique Corals, we worked with a lot of collectors and mariculturists overseas, so we had only so much control over what we received. Guys like me had to relax...

However, the cool thing was that we had built up personal relationships to the point where these guys more or less knew our tastes, and would often throw the fishes in the boxes with corals, so that was actually easier than going to a wholesaler’s facility! (well, better than sending ME there, anyways! it could take half a day to get like 20 fishes...)

This "anti-impulsive" thing isn't just limited to fishes, in my case...

Equipment choices are even more subject to analysis and absurd scrutiny, because hey- how often do you purchase a heater or a lighting system? ( OK, wait- don’t answer that). But seriously, when you’re sending the big money on a critical piece of life-support equipment, you want to get it right! One of the things I love most about the internet is that most sites will analyze the shit out of almost anything, from an algae magnet to a digital refractometer, etc.

It's a source of great information...and even the act of just reading this stuff will help you "slow down" a bit, right?

Useful stuff for many of us- essential for anal-retentive fish geeks like myself.

Of course, impulsiveness can permeate every aspect of being a fish geek, including setup and configuration of your tank. I may not be overly impulsive in terms of additions and purchases, but I CAN be "spur-of-the-moment" on tank decisions.-sometimes to my own detriment!

Now, what exactly do I mean by “tank decisions?”

For example, I’ll be scraping algae or some other mundane maintenance chore in my tank and suddenly, I’ll notice a rock or driftwood branch that seems “not right” somehow…”Hmm, what if I move this guy over here…?” Of course, this almost always leads to a spontaneous “refreshing” of the aquascape, often taking hours to complete.  Somehow, I find this relaxing. Weird. So it’s entirely possible to be analytical and calculating on some aspects of aquarium keeping, and spontaneous on others.

I believe that this dichotomy actually applies to many of us.


And of course, there are aquarists who are entirely impulsive, which is why you see entire 200-gallon tanks full of every fish imaginable, with selections from all over the world poking out from every nook and cranny. (Or, as one of my hardcore "freshwater-only" friends asserted, "That's why there are reef tanks..." Ouch! )

Of course, I cannot, in all honesty, say anything truly negative about impulsive hobbyists because some of these types keep many of us in business, lol!


Besides, it's fun to go "off plan" now and again, right?

The "long game" is familiar to many of us...and of course, so is the love of the "impulse buy" or the "quick-reconfigure." And of course, I couldn't resist analyzing the hell out of a seemingly arcane topic like this.

After all, I am told that I'm your "morning coffee" or "afternoon tea",  I have a certain duty to bring up this kind of stuff here, right?

This hobby demands a perfect blend of patience and impulsiveness...

My advice is to stay impulsive, while staying patient simultaneously...Stay crazy, motivated, fun-loving, adventurous, and just a bit weird.

And of course,

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

November 21, 2019

Hey Josh- Couldn’t agree more…“atypical” is like the perfect general descriptor for the types of tanks we love so much here! And, yeah, the “journey” is as much fun as the “destination”, for sure!


Joshua Morgan
Joshua Morgan

November 20, 2019

I sometimes wish my blackwater tank (or any other tank, for that matter) would be ready for fish in a day…but, in all honesty, it is quite fun to experiment with the tank when there are no fish that could be harmed by your experiments. My current 5 gallon blackwater in particular has been very fun to experiment with…a good cerebral exercise on how to keep highly atypical tanks (with 10-20 ppm TDS, almost no hardness of any kind, lots of leaves, etc)

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