By Justin Moon
I can’t remember a time I didn’t have fish. My dad bred ornamental koi and I started like most people – a couple of goldfish in a bowl became a cold-water 2-footer, which became a couple, which became tropical community tanks with a mismatch of everything, the ‘bag of mixed lollies’ effect.
Gradually my aesthetic centred on South America and I started keeping only cichlids (angels, apistogrammas and rams), catfish (including whiptails), L-numbers, and tetras from the Amazon in larger tanks. I keep heavily planted tanks and have bred, in no particular order, 6 species of apistogramma, royal whiptails, metae corydora, ember tetras, splash tetras, rummy-noses and black phantoms. I’ve kept almost every other tetra at some time or another. My 6-foot aquarium currently has 100 cardinals, a pair of German rams and 5 sturisoma panamense. Looks hot! My 3-foot is stocked with a dozen pencilfish, 25 ember tetras, a pair of apistos and an L-number catfish. Every fish except the lone L-number engages in breeding behaviour including egg-laying.
I’m a big believer that a fish tank in a home should be an object of beauty, and I also believe that it should be all about minimum fuss, minimum stress, and maximum pleasure. I got right into discus for a while, but it wasn’t for me – I had been spooked by their reputation and spent a lot of time worrying about them – a pretty boring state of mind... Your fish need to complement your life, not impact on it, and your fish-keeping techniques need to allow for minor upkeep / tinkering and major observation time.
For me, keeping fish has become, really, keeping water. I have not tested my water in over 10 years. I don’t heat water before I add it to the aquarium. It comes straight out of the tap. I add nothing except a good-quality ager (Seachem Prime). I believe stability is your friend, and I believe in not fighting the water that nature or the city has given you. I also believe water is easy enough to keep healthy.
There are seven main points you need to consider, in my humble opinion.
1. Good size tank – the bigger the better! You will not regret having more space for fish. Larger bodies of water are easier to maintain, as they can become ‘alive’ and manage themselves. A goldfish bowl is much harder to maintain that a 6-ft tank.
2. Good filtration – the bigger the better! Spending more on filtration will mean spending less on replacement fish! I have canisters on my tanks and I let them really age – I clean them out every 10-12 months. I never clean them out at the same time as the tank – the tank will quickly re-establish the bacteria in the canister, then clean the tank 2 weeks later.
3. Live plants – the more, the better! Plant densely. This requires patience, but is not as expensive or as hard as you think: If you buy stem plants, make sure you cut each stem in half (if not thirds) and plant each one individually. This will cover much more space and promote a lot of new growth. Same for anubias.
If you want your Amazon swords to pup, dig your fingers into the soil around the roots and twist the plant around 45-90 degrees. I don’t know why, but this often makes mine send up a stem of pups. I do this once a year and have not bought swords in aeons, in fact I swap them for food etc at Aquaristic. If you buy moss, split it up into as many lots as possible, don’t plant it in a ball or clump – only the outside grows. Use hairnets from the chemist (like your gran used to wear over her bun) to tie the moss onto rocks which will then become slowly covered, and you can move them easily around your tank.
4. Reasonable stocking! Keeping less fish means changing less water. If you like the crowded look, go for big numbers of a small species. Any tetra looks amazing en masse and they don’t create as heavy a bioload as bigger fish. If you like big fish, keep only a few.
5. Water changes - I change a third to half the water once a month - sometimes it’s 6 weeks. It’s cold from the tap – which I believe replicates a flush of new water coming down a river or a mini-flood of fresh rain. Certainly my fish don’t complain, with most swimming directly into the flow of new water as it pours from the bucket. Post-water change, you will see some great courtship and breeding behaviour from many fish, if you stop to watch. I always make sure I have time to sit down and relax in front of the tanks after a water change!
6. Feed sparingly - My fish don’t eat for two days a week. This gives their gut a rest (obviously, the raspers have access to driftwood all the time) and makes them keen for any new foods. I feed good quality, varied small meals twice a day on the other days.
7. Don’t fight nature - Do your research. Work out which fish like your water the way it comes out of your tap. The less you muck around with water, the better. Of course, I am not talking to the serious enthusiast with breeding aims or specialist tastes, but rather, to the average aquarist who wants to enjoy their time in front of their tanks.
Of course, implicit to this list is having a reliable and professional fish expert available – like the excellent team at Aquaristic!
Billy, Victor and Robert are always ready to help and have excellent knowledge and passion. But be smart with your tanks – go slow, read a lot, learn by observation. Your fish will reward you!