"You really can't do that."

Have you ever done something with your aquarium that everyone said was "nuts?" More important, did you get away with it, or did you "crash and burn?" Did you at least try something that the “hobby establishment” said could not be done, or SHOULD NOT be done? Wasn’t it fun? Expensive. Embarrassing, perhaps… 

 But fun, right?


Did you try something “different” than what “they” say is the way to go? Something that provoked those kind of "If man were meant to fly..."-type comments?

I mean, something ill-advised, sort of crazy, off-the-wall, or just downright kooky? Or, did you act on one of those ridiculous ideas that someone threw out when tossing back a couple of brews with the gang after the fish auction or club meeting? Something totally wild?

Relax. You're among friends.


As one who has been known to take a few chances, go against prevailing “hobby wisdom”, and generally push the outside of the envelope a bit (as well as encouraging others to indulge in similar foolhardy adventures), I have even developed an unofficial “classification system” for such free thinking.

Of course I’m going to share it with you, because it’s important for me to continue to nurture disruptive behavior! That’s what makes the hobby great, right? So, here we go, with the “Fellman Scale of Innovative Thought”, which consists of "categories" of ideas:


Ill-Advised Ideas- I’m probably most guilty of this one, along with the majority of hobbyists who dare ask the “establishment”, WHY? Examples of this would be things like the time I was convinced that I could keep 4 different types of Knifefishes and Mormyrids together in a 255-gallon system without calamity or bloodshed. It was exacerbated, of course, because I went with mature (yeah, no juveniles for me) fish. After the days (yeah, DAYS, not weeks or months) went by, in addition to relentless territorial battles reminiscent of the tribal areas of Afghanistan, the rest of my prized fish collection was showing signs of, as one of my friends eloquently put it, “wear and tear…” 

You can imagine how fun it was to break down the aquascape (“Multiple driftwood ‘stumps’, so that each fish has it’s own territory”, I reminded myself before I embarked on this foolish escapade.) after I came to my senses and decided to end the grand “experiment.” Hey, this one was a product of my own arrogance, and I was really convinced at the outset of the experiment that I was to be THE ONE who could pull this off. Did I admit defeat? Nope. I just concluded that it could work better with "a larger tank..."

Arrogance. Simple arrogance. But it was an interesting concept on paper.


Sort of Crazy Ideas- You DIY-types are usually more “guilty” of this one…You know, stuff like top-off systems that involve dosing additives, surge devices in your living room, 4 chambered recirculating carbon reactors, homemade refrigeration systems for cold-water fish, automatic live food dosers, etc. "Improvements", you call them. The "better mousetrap" is your thing. I mean, these ideas are usually pretty nice, and represent many of the great values that we have in the hobby (the independent spirit, adventure, the pursuit for knowledge..the desire to save a few bucks…). Yours is a world of duct tape, twist ties, and hardware store runs. Ideas haunt you at night...Some of these ideas are just a little too advanced for our skills, or perhaps there is really no inexpensive way to make an all-in-one-surge/autofeeding system for under $1,500. Well, maybe there is…It’s just that kind of thinking that keeps the creative (well, you can call them “sort of crazy”) ideas flowing…


Off-The-Wall Ideas- This is typically the realm of newbies..or even experienced hobbyists- who, because of their genuine innocence, love of the hobby, and/or “Why CAN’T it be done?” mindset, come up with some of the craziest ideas of all- and often execute them, albeit with mixed results. I think we should really consider them “outside the box” ideas, however. Ideas like Tubifex “farms” for nutrient export,  Java Moss “reactors”, multi-level gradient leaf litter cryptic zone filtration systems, etc., which have a great theoretical effectiveness, yet may be "challenging" to apply in reality. Nonetheless, it’s at this “level” that real hobby innovations often occur…Stuff like electronic monitors/controllers for aquarium functions, controllable internal pumps, breeding setups for fishes like Plecos and Rays. Many great companies, both in and out of the aquarium hobby sector at large, were founded on just such a mindset. And, you’ll recall, it wasn’t that many years ago that the idea of cutting up frags of coral to grow out on ceramic plugs for sale worldwide seemed pretty “off-the-wall”, right?


Downright Kooky Ideas- This is the type of stuff that gives our hobby the appearance of being a bit, well- eccentric- to outsiders. Stuff like converting indoor swimming pools to Mbuna communities, building aquariums that look like telephone booths and Ford Pintos (heh, heh, couldn’t resist), 10 ml ultra-pico reef tanks, trying to grow gamefish in a home aquarium, selling dried seed pods, etc. etc. Look, I’ll be the first to tip my hat to the dreamers, free thinkers, and even the "eccentrics" among us. However, I’ve always been a bit of a realist…I mean, counterproductive, hurtful, and idiotic thinking is never in vogue. Yet, where would we be without the truly absurd stuff to give us some a) comic relief, b) measure of how serious we take this stuff, and c) ability to let our passions (and our checkbooks, all to often) run wild from time to time. Brainstorming is great…Bringing down the ideas from the ”Downright Kooky” region into the “Off-The-Wall” territory results- many times- in some of the best innovations that we have ever seen.

So, dear fishy friends, don’t be put off or led astray by “conventional” reef thinking, if there even is such a thing…Rather, allow your mind to wander, your passions to soar, your visions to take flight- and your dreams to come true. Don’t put them out with the “wet towel of negativity…” Rather, temper them and nurture them with the spirit of innovation. Keep those ideas flowing, visualize a way to make them become practical realities, and think about the greater good your developed dream will unleash upon the hobby. Disregard the spills, glued fingers, frayed nerves, short circuits, cracked aquariums, and occasional insurance claims. Think of the bigger picture: The conquering of new worlds, the sharing of new ideas, and innovations as yet undreamed of, which will forever change the hobby for the better.

I close with a classic quote, often attributed to the great author Mark Twain, which holds much relevance to this diatribe:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 


Don’t shoot down that wacky, sleep-deprived, alcohol-induced idea that you and your buddies concocted at 3:30 AM at last year’s ACA Convention…even if it IS “Downright Kooky!”

Let’s hear of your triumphs, tragedies, absurd ideas, and amazing innovations. Be open, be honest…Be aware. And most of all…

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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