"You know you're a hardcore aquarist when________________________"

Ever think about what separates you from the "typical" person who keeps aquariums? You know, those casual, "I-have-an-aquarium-but-I'd-just-as-soon-have-a-hamster" types?

Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

Aquarium hobbyists, like everyone else in life, tend to follow certain behaviors, fall into certain stereotypes, and like certain things. To an outsider, it’s very tempting to heap us into that broad category of “fish geek”, and leave it at that. I suppose, to some extent, that’s a fair, although rather broad, classification. Yet, unlike the classic “fish geek”,  I’d hazard a guess that we’re not just obsessed with the animals themselves. Nope, we are into an amazing amount of other, related stuff, right?

 In my mind, there are lots of hobbyists. Then there are hardcore hobbyists. They are easy to pick out from the basic “fish geek”, IMHO.

Yeah, there are plenty of classic "fish geeks", who just love looking at pretty fishes and plants interact in their tank. If you’re one of those people, chances are you have this insanely aquascaped tank, with some beautiful specimen plants, crazy driftwood, and a collection of very nice fishes. Most likely, you purchase your fishes from a variety of sources, making sure that each specimen fits into the theme as part of a greater “whole”. 

Then you get the more extreme hobbyists, a distinct variation of the classic fish geek, who’s tank is a bit more prominent in the household. These people are often the owners of larger aquariums, and they like to shop at the local fish store, or may even have a favorite online livestock vendor or two that they work with. They will not miss a sale if there is a chance to add to their collection, probably did a lot of the work on their tank build themselves, and are likely to have more than one aquarium.

Next comes the “hardcore hobbyist”, the classification many of us fall into. Here is the basis for today’s discussion.

Not only is the “Hardcore” dedicated to his/her hobby on a very serious level- he or she has made aquariums the number one obsession/hobby. Enter the custom made tanks, valves for almost everything, and freezers and refrigerators full of frozen foods and live cultures. These people have extreme brand loyalty to foods, lighting manufacturers, and even activated carbon brands.

“Hardcores” are all about the system, the animals, and the lifestyle that goes with it. They have morning rituals, evening tasks, and “aquarium weekends”, where the goal this week is to “re-route my Co2 system to a reactor” or some other equally arcane thing. They are frequent shoppers at Home Depot, and know their way around the plumbing department. This group is very likely to choose sides in the "Dutch Style"-versus-"Nature Aquarium Style" rivalry. Auctions, conferences, and fish club meetings are just part of the lifestyle for these folks. They’ve been the recipient of multiple BAP recognitions, and have probably bred and reared dozens of varieties of fishes.

They frequent multiple forums, are known by their “usernames” in the aquarium keeping community, check Aquatic Plant Central or Cichlids.com daily for the latest information, are extremely brand-loyal to one or more livestock vendor, yet are always looking for the edge to acquire that dream fish or plant. These are the best people to trade with, as they seem to have accumulated just about everything during their hobby “career”, and are more than happy to reach into their tank at a moment’s notice to snap you off a segment of that rare Sword, or net you a few fry of that cool Fundulopanchax gardneri "Nsukka" that you said you liked.

Generous often to a fault!

Hardcore hobbyists know and interact with the “celebrity” aquarium crowd with a remarkable ease. They love dropping names:  “I asked George (Farmer) about that ‘scape he did last week at the AGA Convention” or “Well, Heiko (Bleher) said that this cichlid was collected from deep water off of the Rio Lago Batata…” They will often cite writings and YouTube videos almost from memory, like a scholar recites Shakespeare: “And Rachel O'Leary said that your tank needs to have more rocks if….”  A hardcore will often use their favorite celebrity to back up their position in a disagreement: “Well, Oliver (Lucanus) states clearly that the L46 is way hardier than the L52 Pleco.”

“Hardcores” have an extensive aquarist vocabulary, and use terms like “morphology”,  “allelopathy”, and “infusoria” with complete ease. Things like “Potassium”, “ Ferts” and “Grindal Worm Culture” are simply part of the territory. Using a CO2 system and pH probe (properly calibrated, of course) is a given. and a controller is pretty much like having a Home Theater or Satellite TV for these people (“So, what’s the big deal? Doesn’t everyone have that stuff?"). Automatic top-off systems, refugiums, fancy lighting arrays, and complex fish room electrical panels are just part of the game for these types.

Many have “fish rooms” built along with their system, and the basement  or garage in their home is dominated by makeup water tanks, food culture stations, or even more tanks. These are the best hobbyists to visit! Fish food buckets, old equipment, and parts are never thrown away.

Rather, they are treasured, organized (well, sometimes!), loosely classified, and made available to other hardcore hobbyists who are in a pinch (You need an impeller from a 2004 Eheim pump? Which pump do you have- a 1206 or a modded 1224?”, or  “I have a spare suction cup for an ADA Pollen Glass you can use…”). This crowd knows the merits of CO2 Proof tubing, Starphire glass, and lots of electrical outlets near their tank. And they have a shitload of aquariums!

Hardcores will take into account their need for storage, electrical modifications, and reinforced floors to support their tank when looking for a new place to live. Imagine a hardcore aquarist on one of those cable TV real estate shows.  I can see it now: “The first place had a really nice walk-out basement, but not enough room for my Discus breeding system. The other place was close to three great fish stores…The third place has a fantastic walk-in closet behind the family room where I can locate the inline heater…" As a hardcore aquarium hobbyist, it’s a given that many real estate considerations are based on having room for present-and future- dream systems.

Even important life decisions are based around the reef lifestyle: “If we get pregnant this month, I’ll be coming to term right around the AKA Convention…Or MACNA, if the baby is late. No way!” or “We can’t take vacation that week, I’ll have three batches of Corys that will be weaning off live baby brine” or “Let’s postpone the root canal until after the tank is delivered…” Yeah- much of your life revolves around the aquarium game.

Scary to an outsider- par for the course for us!

Hardcore aquarium hobbyists speak a different language, with terms like “Pleco”, “Cory”, “Subwassertang” “Amazonia”, and “Wabi Kusa” bandied about. And we know and use all of the crazy pedigree names without reflection, “That’s definitely  an Fp. bivitattum RPC 234”, or,  "Dude, that L86 Pleco is away nicer than your Farowella…” You get the idea, right? Go to a fish convention/auction and it will very much remind you of the famous “cantina scene” from “Star Wars”, with tons of different dialogues going on in seemingly an alien language. It’s "all Greek" to the hardcore aquarium hobbyist, though!

Have you noticed that many hardcore hobbyists  are also “techies” to some extent? Not only can they fix up a mean home theater system, but they are really into equally tech-heavy hobbies like photography, SCUBA diving, custom A/V systems, and whole-house automation. All are loved, but not revered like aquarium keeping. And you’ll find little signs of the influence of the lifestyle all over the house. Look into their kitchen cabinets and you’re likely to see ACA shot glasses, “crazybettas.com” bottle openers, maybe a Tannin throw blanket- and stuff like that.

A good chunk of many a hardcore hobbyist's casual wardrobe is tee shirts acquired at vendor booths at conferences and auctions. Note to my fellow vendors: As vendors, we have an obligation to provide shirts to hardcore hobbyists at conferences…I mean, how else would they be able to dress themselves? Please factor shirts into your promo budget this year…

Look, I love just about anyone that’s into the hobby. However, you hardcore aquarists- and you know who you are- hold a very special place in my heart. You get it. You understand what it’s like to wake up at 2:30 in the morning for a glass of water, walk by your tank, and see that this one piece of driftwood is askew.

So you’ll casually start adjusting it- and still be into  what has now morphed into a major remodeling project at 7 AM, when the rest of the household is just waking up- and you’ll no doubt be working on it throughout the day, calling in sick to work to get this done! 

That’s part of being hardcore.

I’ve thrown out just a few examples here…No doubt you have dozens more based on your own experiences, or experiences with other hardcore aquarists…Let’s hear ‘em! Get them out in the open, so that we can accumulate the definitive reference on hardcore aquarium hobbyists. This will help those who wish to live with us, exist with us, or even join us in our geeky obsession!

“You know you’re hardcore aquarist when___________” is just scratching the surface!

As always, thanks for stopping by, sharing, and interacting!

Stay unique. Stay diligent. Stay dedicated. Stay involved. Stay...hardcore!

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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