Total fail? Only if you make it one...

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."- Winston Churchill

After a lifetime in the hobby, I can occasionally reflect back on some of the great successes that I’ve had...and on some of the many, many failures that I’ve been involved with! Failures aren’t that bad, really. In fact, their pretty darned helpful...As the sayings goes, “Nothing is ever wasted- it can always serve as an example of what NOT to do!”


I was thinking about my worst-ever aquarium disasters, and, fortunately, there have not been all that many...However, the ones I have had have been notable...and educational!

My biggest mistakes came out of my own arrogance, really.

Usually, they were "created" when I tried to do something that disregarded simple logic (and a century of aquarium common sense), like trying mixes of fishes that were absurd, overstocking tanks...stuff like that.

For example, from my reef keeping experience- not all that long ago, actually- I was going to be the ONE reefer to keep several Centropyge angelfish in his reef, including a Lemonpeel, Vrolicki, Coral Beauty, Flame Angel, and Bicolor! If you don't know anything about the dwarf angelfish of the genus Centropyge, the one thing you SHOULD know is that they are very territorial, and don't generally get along with others of their own species. And mixing different species is a traditional "recipe"  for disaster.

Oh, and most of the ones I wanted to keep had a well-earned reputation for snacking on coral tissue...Nonetheless, I really thought I could pull this off in a large reef with specialized aquascaping... I was convinced that it could work and that Id be the envy of the reef aquarium world for doing so...Not only did this experiment end with some "predictable" results (a lot of nice corals getting snacked on), it resulted in 5 very ticked-off, very beaten up dwarf angels! Stupid...For some reason, I really thought that my “methodology” would pay off and that it could work...WRONG.

But hey. I OWN it.

I distinctly remember a dubious experiment on the side of my parents' house one summer when I was a teen, attempting to culture mosquito larvae...yeah, you know how well THAT went down! 

Or the time I tried to build my own canister/cartridge filter...with a bad concept and cheap PVC materials that didn't match up. Yeah, it didn’t work, and the resulting leaks and lack of functionality reflected my DIY skills! It was a good thought, but poor on the execution side. Completely unlike the Angelfish fiasco, which was a “lose-lose” proposition! Nowadays, if I have the urge, I get my DIY stuff from that "Uaru Joey" guy.

Oh, or time I tried to make a continuous-feed brine shrimp hatcher...Do you know how LONG it takes to get brine shrimp eggs out of the water column in your tank? Long time.

Enough said.

However, failing- and I mean this in the most literal sense- can actually be beneficial in so many ways, especially if you share your failures publicly. Right now, somewhere out in Aquarium-land, there is another hobbyist contemplating the same absurd, disaster-inevitable idea you brought to life...

So imagine, for a moment, if you do a quick “confessional” here about your biggest aquarium screw up, and he or she stumbles on it, and then decides NOT to recreate your disaster. Think of the savings in money, frustration, and innocent animals’ lives...It’s all good. Failure makes you a more successful aquarist- IF you learn from the mistake, and IF you share it with others!

So, don’t hide your failures. Trumpet them from the highest mountain. Savor them. Run around, scream, share, yell at people if you must...But tell ‘em that you screwed something up...Tell them how, why, and what it was that you did to screw it up!  Then laugh about it and feel better!

Sometimes, you try something that YOU think will be a mess, but your friends know will work...and you do it anyways!  And it DOES work! Like recently, when my friend William Garden convinced me to try several male Apistos of different species in my display tank...I was like, "Dude...really?"

And he said "Trust me."  And I did. And it's awesome!

I’m working on a piece on the many screw-ups we’ve made here at Tannin. It’s actually kind of funny...Marketing blasphemy, you say? No. Not at all. Rather, it’s a living embodiment of practicing what we preach...We will all benefit from being human, being honest, and getting through our trials and tribulations in fish keeping together. We all have more to gain than to lose from sharing. Trust me.

So now, it’s confession time...What’s the biggest screwup- the worst mistake- that you’ve made in aquarium keeping. Don’t be shy. Own it. Share it. Your failure will lead to others it wasn’t really a failure after all, right?


Stay ridiculous. Stay honest. Stay curious. Stay experimental

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

November 14, 2016

“Ohh, and we have these really nice Hydra, too!” Yeah, gotta love the foibles of youth! Agreement on the Chinese “Algae Eater”, which, IMHO, is one of the greatest tropical fish industry marketing “successes ever.”- totally unsuited for its “intended” purpose! Gotta love that…:)


November 13, 2016

Hah, me and some friends once collected, bagged and tried to sell Dragonfly larvae to the owner of our LFS when we were kids. We thought we actually discovered something new. Love the picture of the Chinese Algae Eater btw. I find them interesting myself, but for most beginners purchasing one usually becomes a mistake. If only they stayed small.

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