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Painless ways to improve your hobby.

Tannin Aquatics

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Occasionally, I feel like the "Oprah" of the aquarium-keeping world, and am compelled to dispense quasi nonsensical advice to you with an air of seemingly undisputed authority...Today is such a day, and you'll have to indulge me with this one. Tomorrow we can talk about Bucephelandra care, rearing killie fry, cleaning your canister filter,  or something far more practical. However, today is the day after speaking at a regional weekend fish geek event, and after talking fish all weekend, I'm jumping on a cross country flight back to L.A., and getting ready to fly right back out to the midwest this weekend for yet another speaking gig- a busy week in my world- so I'm decompressing by staying in sort of a philosophical mood, and we'll all just have to deal with it, okay?

I was thinking that, as aquarium geeks, we engage in a lot of everyday "rituals" and such that make us better, stronger, more intelligent hobbyists. However, occasionally, we lose our way and are looking for a track to run on, some ideas to deploy. In that vein, I give you ten compelling ways to become more empowered as a hobbyist each and every day. As usual, you can, and should contribute to this list. It's almost Spring, and besides being about taxes, it's about renewal...So, lets see if we can invigorate your hobby experience with this stuff...Here goes:

Make a “To Do” list of weekly aquarium-keeping tasks and follow it- Yeah, seems simple, right? However, if you make an easy to follow list of tasks- and actually get to a few of them throughout the week, not only will you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment about having gotten them done, you’ll see great results in your tank! And, you’ll be able to really ascertain what is necessary for YOUR aquarium from what “the books” tell you to do. It will create a more personalized, effective aquarium keeping “practice” for you, trust me. You'll know that the things that you are doing with your tanks are correct for it...a truly "customized" experience, as it should be.

Collate inspiration- If you’re trying to create the most unique display ever, you’ll probably need a bit of inspiration! So, why not scour the ‘net for cool inspiration in the form of pics, article, etc., and collate it all in one place for easy reference? You can organize by categories, such as aquascaping, inspirational tanks, natural habitat shots, corals, articles on plant care, etc. OMG- I think I’m describing Pinterest! Well, bottom line is that this site seems the least nonsensical of the “social media” to me, simply because you’re just collecting stuff and putting it in one place for reference, although I’m sure that there must be some lame feature that makes the site annoying. You could just make a folder on your desktop and store downloads and pics there…good enough. So, put those inspiring ideas somewhere useful, ok?



Check out your tank early in the morning- Like I really have to tell you this? Well, yeah, I should at least remind you to do this. In our daily lives, we tend to cram so much stuff into our days that it can get too hectic to check out our tanks the way they should be. Often times, looking at your aquarium first thing, before the lights come on, can yield some information and valuable clues about the direction of your tank. You’ll see shrimp behaviors that you won’t see when the lights are on. You’ll be able to inspect plants and other internal features of the tank without fishes swimming all over, giving you a better opportunity to evaluate flow, noise levels, and other attributes of your aquarium that become utterly lost when everything is up and running. Plus, if you do discover a problem, you have a chance to get it BEFORE you head out for the day. WARNING: Over the years, I’ve started my day this way, working on a “quick tweak” to my rock work or woodwork, and ended up calling in sick, spending the whole day re-scaping the tank. Yup. And you have, too.


Try feeding your animals something new- Yeah, the old cliche about variety being the spice of life is extremely applicable to reefing. Trying new foods is important for several reasons. First, you will get a chance to evaluate the acceptability and usefulness of various brands. Trying different foods does simulate a natural environment a bit more closely, in that, on any given day, aquatic animals will “find what they find” in nature, depending on numerous factors. So, you could argue that selecting a variety of new foods creates a more natural situation for fishes. Besides, there are certain foods out there that contain more protein, more substances that stimulate better color in fishes, disease recovery, etc. And, when you’re “weaning” new arrivals into their new life in captivity, it’s important to try as many foods as possible to stimulate feeding.


Take notes- Yup, paper and pen, or Ipad and finger, are some of the greatest inventions ever for aquarium keepers! Record your daily aquatic observations. Not only is it useful, as it can help you establish a “baseline” of your tank's normal operations, animal behaviors, and overall status, it will help you look back on what is “normal” for your aquarium on any given day, so that one day, when something isn’t looking right, you’ll be able to turn to your notes and realize that the big Aponogeton was NOT extending leaves every time you dosed _______, or that colors in your Bees usually intensified three days after you started feeding ___________. Useful stuff. And, you might just be able to accumulate enough material to write a blog or article- or even a book, to really help other aquarists! Yeah…

Study- What? No, really- take a few minutes every day to study some aspect of aquarium keeping. Weather it’s water chemistry, fish compatibility, how a CO2 system works, or how to select shrimps for a breeding program, you’ll become a better aquarist simply by knowing more. Even if you don't apply something that you studied right away, the knowledge is huge. Not only will you learn some things that can help you acquire more knowledge and skill, you’ll be in a better position to help others. If you see that “everyone” is preaching about doing a certain thing one way, and you’re actually getting crazy good results by doing just the contrary, shouldn’t everyone know about it? Yeah, studying and sharing are totally fundamental practices that will help propel you- and the hobby- further!


Ask a question- Yup, you heard me. Go on a forum, blog, website, etc., and ask a question about a topic that has you baffled. Not only will you find that other hobbyists probably are just as confused as you are about the same topic, you’ll probably end up making some friends in the process. Whaoh, wait a second…I know, I know, you’re thinking “Fellman is asking me to make friends with other hobbyists and sing songs around the campfire…sheesh.” No, you still have my permission to be antisocial and avoid being pals with everyone- don’t worry. What I am suggesting is that you might find a few aquarists who have a common interest, and whom you can occasionally run by a question or idea for comment. You can still engage in antisocial, curmudgeonly behavior in other aspects of your fish-keeping life, not to worry.

Eat in front of your tank- I dare you. You need to prove to yourself- and your family- that you can engage in “normal” life activities while enjoying your aquarium. You know, like talking to your spouse and children. The real trick is to enjoy your deep discussion (and grilled chicken breast with balsamic reduction and steamed baby Bok Choy) WITHOUT reaching for the tank tongs or adjusting the lighting intensity on your LEDs, or some other “necessary” task. Like living without your smart phone for a day... Can you do it? If you can, you’ll really be proving to your family that an aquarium can ENHANCE your lifestyle, not take it over. See if you’re up to the challenge.


Share a pic- Even if you’re no professional photographer, a picture is truly worth a thousand words, or some nonsense like that. If we accept what all of the self-appointed social media “experts” that have emerged from every nook and cranny tell us, sharing is super easy and will help us in other areas of our lives. We’re not talking about taking “selfies” of you and your favorite CRS. That’s just weird. However, everyone likes seeing a good FTS. Besides, these same “experts” tell us that people can only absorb 140 characters of information (apparently, human culture and the brain have devolved to this point in the last decade), so just blow off “Twitter” and post a pic of your fave plant or fish instead. Let others enjoy and comment on it. Feel involved and cool. For extra credit, you could write things like “#awesomerilli” or “#mytankisthebomb” or other ridiculous, “searchable” crap with your pic that will help more people find it. No, actually- that’s stupid. Just put up a freaking pic and be done with the whole project. I’m just sayin’…


Visit the LFS and spend some money there- Yeah, you heard me. The LFS is the coolest institution in the hobby. Cooler than online vendors, way cooler than forums. You can actually support a business that you can touch, see, feel, smell. You can support a hobby institution that has tangible, broad-reaching impact. When you support a local fish store, not only are you getting the “instant gratification” that the inter webs cannot provide, you’re helping foster the very culture of aquarium keeping. The LFS is the aquarium hobby's equivalent of the “watering hole” on the African Serengeti Plain, sans predators, drought, and Water Buffalo stampedes. It’s a place to get inspired, see something new, try out products that you’ve never seen before, and to interact on a real, tangible level with other members of the “tribe.” Long live the LFS!

Okay, so once again, this was a bit esoteric today, but I think you get the idea (I usually get this way after speaking gigs). Each day is a chance to try something new that can help you become a more “empowered” aquarist, engaged, enlightened, and invigorated. If you’ve noticed, a lot of my suggestions involve not only interacting with your tank, but interacting with other hobbyists. It’s important, meaningful, and will serve to make you a better, more well-rounded aquarist. Sharing and exchanging ideas has never been easier, and it’s a vital part of perpetuating and enhancing our awesome hobby. So, despite my constant reminders to boycott most of the vapidity of “social media”, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to a fellow hobbyist now and again. 

In the end, the hobby is about more than just keeping fishes, shrimps, corals, and plants, or playing with expensive equipment. It’s about building skills, relationships, and contributing to a body of knowledge that is larger than ourselves.

Like everything I throw up here, I’m open to suggestions, so let’s hear your ideas for becoming a more empowered, powerful aquarist.

As always, enjoy your day, your hobby, and each other. And don’t forget-

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

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Thanks again Scott.  I do sit and look at a different tank every morning while things are quite and before another crazy day starts.  When the lights come on (timers) all Hades breaks loose as everybody wants fed.   I keep a journal of what's happening in my tanks as well as my other love. (gardening)  This forum and the wealth of knowledge of past posts and current topics has helped me to be a better steward of my charges.  The people I have "met" on this site are just like friends willing to help at any time and it shows their love of their hobby and the betterment of it. 

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14 minutes ago, oem said:

Thanks again Scott.  I do sit and look at a different tank every morning while things are quite and before another crazy day starts.  When the lights come on (timers) all Hades breaks loose as everybody wants fed.   I keep a journal of what's happening in my tanks as well as my other love. (gardening)  This forum and the wealth of knowledge of past posts and current topics has helped me to be a better steward of my charges.  The people I have "met" on this site are just like friends willing to help at any time and it shows their love of their hobby and the betterment of it. 

And THAT is what it's all about!



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