You asked for it....


Well, it's a typical summer...Everyone is running around enjoying themselves, we're occupying our days with shipping cool botanicals, some aquariums are getting benignly neglected by hobbyists eager to enjoy the benefits of everyone's favorite time of year, before the crisp chill of Fall once again returns...And others are in full swing, with big-item expansion plans in the works!

Over the years, I've sort of developed a sort of personality of being everyone's fish-keeping confidant. I know a lot of you turn to me for advice, discussion...a shoulder to cry on...and for botanicals and stuff, too (well, that's a good thing!). Like Mary Poppins, most of my advice is dispensed with a "spoonful of sugar", and it goes down fairly easily, if not, on occasion, controversially.

Today's little number is actually based on a "request" a reader had, wanting me to touch on some of the things that I feel strongly about. You'll probably think I'm a bit off on some of them, and maybe spot on about others. You might even wonder why these things concern me at all, lol.

Yeah, I'm usually pretty easy going.

Lately, however, I've taken a somewhat more "realistic" approach to the hobby, realizing that sugar-coating our own follies and giving the typical warm fuzzy isn't always what you need. I realized, both in my personal practice, and in the "advice" I've been dispensing to fellow hobbyists of late, that I've had to take a more pragmatic approach to really do everyone some good.

So the tone of this piece might be a bit more ahem, "blunt" than what you're used to from me. On the other hand, it's formulated to be helpful, not patronizing, and that means we sometimes all have to get some "tough love" in order to progress in the hobby. It's a distillation of advice sifted from a whole lot of emails and phone calls I've received over the past few months, peppered with a sprinkling of recent personal experience and practice.

So here goes...

If a fish or coral looks bad, and might be dying- get it out of the tank…Yeah- that sounds bad, and it almost sounds like I'm endorsing a "euthenasia" of sorts for fish that don't "look good." Don't get it twisted here.  I'm not talking about getting rid of ugly fish. "Ugly" is different than "unhealthy!"  I'm talking about taking action- removing the afflicted animal/plant/coral for treatment. And so many of us take this attitude that fish, corals, or plants will somehow "spontaneously heal" themselves...It almost never happens. Tell yourself that. Us compassionate types seem to have trouble with it. Yet, I remember from the coral farming game, that, if you have a struggling coral frag that might have flatworms, red bugs, or some other pest or disease, you couldn't risk letting it take down other frags and needed to remove it from the system ASAP. Sometimes, you have to make the tough call and not play "Florence Nightingale" to a struggling fish or coral (at least, not while it's in the tank). The risks to the rest of the community are too great, IMHO. ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one…” (OMG did I just quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek? Yeah, I did.)


Some tough love on aquascaping...

Hobbyists seem to think that you have to fill every available centimeter of your tank with "stuff." Not sure where this comes from, but we see it all the time. I see so many aquascpes that are just packed with stuff...Sometimes it looks cool, in context. Other times, it's just - well...too much. Please...keep some “negative space” in the layout somewhere. Not just for aesthetics…I mean, yes, you should have some open space not covered by plants., rocks, leaves, etc.. Why? For several reasons: One, it gives you existing plants a chance to spread out and grow. Second, it DOES have a good aesthetic thing going for it…We all like to allow our eyes a place to rest from the busy “fruit-stand” appearance of a typical planted aquarium. And finally, having some extra space gives you room to…expand your collection, if you want! To be a bit "impulsive" (after due consideration for the merits of the fishes or plants that you're considering, of course). Yeah, that’s right..I said it! You can have some room for future impulse buys! A salute to consumerism (and of course, a tip of the hat to livestock vendors out there!). Yeah, try to keep a little open space...

Ditch really bad ideas…quickly.

Yup, kind of like the Facebook corporate mantra of “move fast and break things”, I think it’s time we let stuff go that doesn’t work. Life it too short. I am not saying to disregard patience (Lord knows, I’ve written a ton about that over the past few years right in this forum). All I’m saying is that you need to let go of ideas that simply aren’t working out, taxing time, energy, money, space, and “mind power.” Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all…but better to let something that was failing die a quick death than to have it function as a “black hole” of your hobby energy (and budget!). Harsh words coming from me, but they’re true. If it doesn’t work- Kill it. KILL IT!

It didn't work. Move on. Next...

Seek advice and counsel from row hobbyists, but don’t talk anyone’s word as THE ultimate. Because the reality is, there is plenty to learn in this hobby from a lot of people. And from yourself, as well! There are people out there in Fish Keeping Land doing stuff you never even heard of, and maybe they are having great results. Does that mean you should listen to everything they say and try to replicate their efforts to the last detail, or embrace all of their philosophies? Of course not. No way. Take everything- from everyone in this hobby- with a grain of salt. Learn to evaluate aquarium keeping strategies in the context of “Will this work for ME?” Far better than to just blindly follow ANYONE. Do you.

"There is only one way..glorious conformity to MY way..." (Remember the classic Apple "1984" commercial? Yeah.)

And when it comes to "doing stuff...."

If you want something on your tank done right…do it…the right way? Yeah. Doesn’t matter if you’re the guy/gal doing it, or if you hire someone else. Just make sure it’s done correctly. I’ve seen so many people put time and effort into fish projects that were not only doomed to fail, but they simply couldn’t work by virtue of design, function, or even budget. And they lingered on and on in the system, like a slow-growing cancer. This sort of dovetails with my third point about killing bad ideas

Okay, it’s an addendum, really: If you’re not going to do something the right way, just don’t bother. Really. It sounds negative, I know- but you’ll be much happier in the long run, trust me. I see this in reef-keeping all the time. Example: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard reefers tell me that “(Insert product here) doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. It sucks.” Upon further investigation, it turns out that the reefer was using the product, but either not in the correct manner, or only part of it. You hear that a lot with regimens like trace element supplementation and carbon dosing, two-part solutions, etc. And it's the same in freshwater systems: If you’re using a regimen or system that needs to have multiple components or systems working together, use them! Don't "edit", for goodness sake.! At least not until you've tested and verified effectiveness for a long time. You can’t expect a complete result out of a partial effort.

Final thought on "doing stuff"
Some things you just shouldn't do yourself. Like building aquariums stands or the aquarium itself if you don't have the tools, time, and skills. But you need things done correctly regardless of who does them! Doing it right the first time is always the "best way!"

Yikes, it was much quieter and less annoying when I was writing about leaves and stuff, huh? Glad I got this out of my system!

Today’s  "bitch-slap" of cold reality, courtesy of your local fish keeping enfant terrible.!

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday... have some fun…

Stay engaged. Stay focus. Stay excited.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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