Ways to make sure that your aquarium doesn't suck? (Seriously!)

This might be a bit nasty today...

Ok, maybe after a while writing these columns, you sometimes have to tell things like they are, right? The following is one of those examples of me having a bit of an attitude today. Some of this stuff may seem a bit mean-spirited to some of you. However, in the interest of making you be a better aquarist, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t give you some of my opinions, right? Sometimes, those opinions are “tough love”, and they aren't pretty…


 Ok, here goes.

 Let’s say you’ve been in the hobby a while, and your aquarium is just kind of…average. Maybe it’s not even average. Maybe it…sucks.


There are many reasons why an aquarium can suck…Yup, you never thought that you’d read that in a blog, huh? So let’s look at some of the less obvious signs that your aquarium…sucks.

 They might be not what you think.

Your tank looks exactly like the “Tank of the Decade/Year/Month/Week/Day” - Yeah, that’s right. The fact that your tank looks just like the one that just won that coveted title is not such a great thing, IMO. I mean, you’re a fish geek! You’ve invested tons of time, money and effort in creating and maintaining your tank. So, why would you want to have it look like ANYONE else’s aquarium? Your tank should reflect your taste, your style, YOUR dream. 

I hate seeing tanks that are purely imitative. Why? Because with all of the aforementioned time, money and effort, you could have come up with an aquascape completely of your own design. Please, please, please…be yourself. You’re really good! The tank you create as an homage to someone else’s work is never as good as the one you can create from your own imagination. Being inspired by others is great...but put your won stamp on it.

 See. that wasn’t so bad, right?

 Oh, it  will get worse.

 Your tank has too many pumps/filter outlets, and other technical “props” that are showing- “Oh, c’mon Scott! Don’t be such a smart ass! It’s not easy to disguise all that stuff.”  No, it isn’t. And I don’t apologize for that. You gotta up your game and hide some of that stuff. It’s so totally distracting to see technical gear in the aquarium. It just stares at you and screams, “I’m a heater! I’m a powerhead!” Yuck. You can use rocks, wood, angles, even design elements to hide these props, or at least minimize their obvious impact on the overall aesthetic of your aquascape ! Please, please PLEASE make sure that you do your best to hide these things.

You won’t share experiences, advice, time, fry, eggs, or plant cuttings with other hobbyists- For goodness sakes, why would you NOT want to do this? By being closed off, not only do you miss the opportunity to help expand the hobby, preserve natural resources, and educate others- you’ll miss the chance to enjoy new friends as well. So, in my opinion, if you (and I mean it in the generic sense, of course- you’re not that guy) are a selfish, closed minded person, even if your tank looks amazing- it sucks in my book. Ouch.


You perform no regularly scheduled maintenance tasks on your tank. No, throwing in a  cube of frozen food is NOT “maintenance.” Grab a siphon hose and commit to making at least a small water exchange on a regular basis. Form good habits that will make sure that your aquarium is around for the long term. Not a spectacular showpiece for a few months or a year, and then a slowly declining disaster…This happens more than you think, and “Tanks of the (insert time period) that look great for a while then decline into ruin because of apathy…suck.

Your aquarium relies on automation for everything. What? Automation is cool! Yeah, it is…and it’s cool when it’s HELPING you monitor or maintain your tank…It’s all cool. However, when you are relying on automation to do everything- water monitoring, water changes, top off, dosing plant foods, etc., you’re ceding control to technology…Sure, it’s important to have these systems, and I will not fault any of them. But if you feel that you’re installing that fancy controller so that you won’t have to get your hands wet, check manually on your tank, change water, or do testing ever again…your tank…sucks. Yup, I said it. It may be a technological marvel, but you need to actually get your hands wet once in a while…Looking at a readout of status on your iPhone is not “observing your tank.” 

 Wow, I’m getting rather brash and nasty here, huh? The point is not to be a pompous jerk, or a guy filled with self-righteous indignity borne of several decades in the fish world. I’m not pining away for the days of under gravel filters and Vita-Lites. What I am making a big stink about is for you, as dedicated hobbyists, to recognize when you are getting “off course”, and losing touch with your beloved hobby. 

 You need to sometimes step back and look at how you’re doing in this hobby. We need to put more of “who we are” into our tanks…A tank should be an embodiment of who we are, what we are…It’s not about trying to impress your friends, display your vast wealth, or to pound your love of a certain brand’s equipment into everyone’s head. It’s about expressing yourself, your talents, your unabashed love for the hobby in a way that everyone can benefit.

 Oh, this may sound like a lot of psychobabble from the crazy botanical vendor guy…And it might just be. However, I think you’ll agree that it makes sense to look objectively at where we are and why we do what we do in the hobby. Listen to yourself…listen to the suggestions and occasionally- the criticisms- of fellow aquarists. Engage others in discussions about aquarium keeping. Communicate with fellow hobbyists on forums and at shows, events, etc. Realize that you’re pretty good at what you do.  You can teach others- and learn from them, too. And when you lose touch with who you are as an aquarist, it will show. Your tank  will….suck.

 Make sure that your tank doesn't suck, okay?

 Until next time,

 Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Sanjay Ghataode
Sanjay Ghataode


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