Help me take my tropical freshwater fish to the next level.
November 26, 2007 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me take my tropical freshwater fish to the next level.

I've kept fish on and off since I was young but haven't really taken it very far. I love getting new fish and seeing them swim around, but my interest fades after a while, the fish get a little neglected and the tank just meanders along with a daily feed and the occasional clean. I'm at this stage now.

I have a small corner tank full of pretty mollies, some harlequins and some neons. The tank is overrun with snails and the vegetation slowly rotting away or being eaten.

After seeing a beautiful, verdant tank at a friends, and another one on some aquarist's website, I feel it is either time to stop keeping fish altogether, or to take it a step up.

Can any of you budding enthusiasts out there show me the way, be it books, advice, areas to improve - anything that will pique my interest in this hobby. I'm based in London if any geographic-based recommendations turn up.
posted by letsgomendel to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Go bigger. When I had a tank, I found that the smallish tanks (15-20 gallons) were more work than the small fish load was worth.

However, moving to the 50 gallon tank made upkeep much easier (water temperature and chemistry don't fluctuate so dramatically), and allowed some of the bigger fish that provided more visual interest, as well as more non-fish stuff in the tank for them to be interesting around.

Snails were a real downer. Never found a great way to get rid of them once introduced, short of a total tank tear-down. I don't even remember if or what sort of fishies might be appropriate that might eat the little devils.

I didn't have the space or the energy to find someone to tend when I went on vacation, but really wanted to go a *lot* bigger...
posted by LoraxGuy at 1:31 PM on November 26, 2007

You will never get the snails out without tearing down the whole tank. They're usually introduced on plants so be sure that the next time you buy plants they're sourced from a snail-free tank.

What took my old tank to the "next level," I think, was realizing it was a totally artificial environment, and mine to customize however I wished. That meant no more boring grey rocks. No more boring grey *anything*. Use colored gravel and install only visually interesting rocks, plastic rocks, and plants for the fish to hide behind and swim around in. Lay these things out to make an obstacle course, fish love swimming near objects and hiding in plants.

Use one of those ultra vivid lights - or maybe get some colored lights, I always liked red and blue lights - and consider a visually interesting backdrop so you can't see through the back wall of the tank. And definitely get the biggest tank you can afford. Crowded fish aren't healthy, don't grow, and don't swim around in an entertaining manner - 1 fish inch per gallon is a lot of fish, 0.5 fish inches per gallon is better - and it's harder to keep a small tank clean. Also with a bigger tank you won't feel so bad about wasting 3 fish inches on a plecostomus (algae eater).
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:14 PM on November 26, 2007

If you really want to take it to the next level, I would consider a serious planted tank (check out Start looking into unusual species of fish that you won't find at your average fish store. Find that store that deals in the unique and oddball stuff, where the owner is an enthusiast too, not just a guy with a business to run. Get involved in breeding your fish. Do all of the above. These seem to be the areas that make someone obsessive. Joining a club or an online forum with like minded hobbiest helps.

There are a few critters that will eat snails. Most botia loaches will, as well most puffer fish. You can crush them as you see them, or put a plate with a food pellet on it after the lights go out, and remove a few hours later.

Agreeing that a larger tank will help too.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:37 PM on November 26, 2007

Plants in aquariums are like plants outside; they need some extra care beyond sticking them in the gravel and letting them be. You need to choose the correct plants for the conditions- lighting is one of the reasons plants struggle in fishtanks. I also think that undergravel filters help planted tanks, just don't use them as primary filtration.
I have a lot of snails in both my tanks, because they help eat the dead pant bits and algae. My synodontis catfish tends to eat snail eggs he finds, so in the tank he's in the snails are imported when larger from the other tank. If the snail population gets out of hand, there will often be a die off because the food runs out, as most of the greenery in my tanks is not really stuff snails like to eat. Snails do put additional load on the filter, so it's sort of up to you if you want to keep a bunch. Personally, I tend to work on a sort of mini ecosystem ideal, with living plants, some algae, scavengers, and fish. I have to pay more attention to water chemistry and filtration, but that's OK.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:47 PM on November 26, 2007

Seconding the upgrade to a larger tank. The change from 12 to 55 actually made maintenance a lot easier for me. 50 gallons or more will let you have clown loaches, which gobble up snails with greedy glee, as [insert clever name here] has noted. Plus, they are very entertaining in the tank. But they need a larger tank to thrive. Also, my plants do better when they get the appropriate plant food. I've have good results with Tropica Master Grow, but your local fish store should have some pointers based on your water supply and the kind of plants you are trying to keep.
posted by ambrosia at 4:18 PM on November 26, 2007

pretty mollies, some harlequins and some neons

Get a bigger tank and some new, aggressive species, like cichlids and such. Also, look into other critters that can be in freshwater tanks, like crayfish and freshwater shrimp.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:15 PM on November 26, 2007

The Aquatic Gardeners Association site might be a good jumping off point. A lot of information and inspiration there.

I would get a bigger tank for all the reasons given above. I prefer longer, shallower (i.e., 15-18" deep) tanks because they give the fish more room to establish territory and to swim. Increasing the movement of your schooling rasboras and tetras will add visual interest to the tank immediately. I have had problems with clown loaches and plecos uprooting plants, YMMV. Personally, I like a shoal of corys for my bottom dwellers, but they won't do anything about the snails.

Any true fishkeeper's first response is always "get a bigger/another tank." :)
posted by weebil at 9:19 PM on November 26, 2007

I got rid of almost all of my ramshorn snails by getting 4 clown loaches in my 55 gallon tank. I still have some cornucopia snails, but they just stay burrowed in the gravel, so they aren't an a problem. I've balanced out the algae cleaning the snails did with some amano shrimp.

The clown loaches seem to be behaviorally very different from most other aquarium fish, so they help provide something interesting to look at.
posted by jrishel at 6:00 AM on November 27, 2007

Start taking it all more seriously.

Read all the books you can, especially some books by Takashi Amano, he will amaze you.

Subscribe to Practical Fishkeeping.

Learn more about the fish you are keeping - you have Mollies (brackish, alkali water) and Neons (soft, acidic water) in the same tank - it's unlikely they are both happy.
posted by SpacemanRed at 9:07 AM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. Same with everything I've been trying over the years, the more time and effort you put into something, the more you get out of it.

Meanwhile, I've got a lot of ammunition to go away and have a good think about exactly how I'm going to proceed with the fish. My thoughts are to get a larger tank with a good filtration system, get it planted up with interesting plants and well decorated, then populate it with interesting fish.

And thanks for the Takashi Amano recommendation.

Can anyone recommend a good place to buy fish in the London area? I'm actually on the Surrey border, but can travel into the centre in around 20 minutes.
posted by letsgomendel at 12:51 PM on November 27, 2007

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