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Beginners Manual to Fish Keeping
By: April Lynn


This is a care sheet I have put together to thoroughly explain how to appropriately attend to your pets needs. This is a low demand, very gratifying hobby. Granted it is not for everyone, and as your interest in this hobby may vary at times, there is just so much to learn, and do differently, you can never get tired of being an aquarist.

However, you cannot simply put fish into a tank with water in it, and *presto* have an instant, healthy fish tank. Not taking into consideration that you do need to take care of the water is bound to limit and inhibit the success you have. There are a few things you need to know to have enough knowledge to get by with. I suggest that before you buy fish, plants or anything you put in your tank that you attempt to find as much information as possible, from successful people, and reputable resources on the internet and books. However, if you are to trust fish vendor's advice it is wise to test their water with the appropriate test kits, and then decide what you want to do.
The most important thing a fish keeper can strive to achieve and understand is the nitrogen cycle in a tank. Some things people call *the nitrogen cycle* are seasoned, broken in, established and finally cycled. I like the term cycled, so that is what you will hear me refer to it as.
Cycling a tank is the hardest part of fish keeping. You will likely be doing water changes every three days and sometimes more to keep the water quality at a reasonable level. The good news is it doesn't take long until your tank is cycled. Cycling usually takes six weeks but can take place in a shorter or longer time period. Every tank is different, and no one can tell you an exact date it will be complete. You will want test kits for your tank, especially during this stage. Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate and pH kit are bare minimum for testing supplies that successful fish keepers have. You will know you're done cycling when your tests read zero Ammonia and Nitrite and detectable Nitrate.     


By now you are thinking OK, what exactly is cycling, right?Allow me to explain: After you have added a dechlorinator to your tank water, allow the temperature of the water to rise to about 78*, and turn your filter on, your now going to add your fish. The best choice of fish to do this with are goldfish (because they are cheap) or danios. You can always give them away back to your local fish store, or someone that wants them, after your done cycling.
You feed your fish in turn they poop and pee, and the uneaten food that may be on the bottom, rots. This all produces Ammonia. Ammonia is very toxic to fish. Within a few days of adding fish, bacteria's begins to come to life. This bacterium is called Nitrosomonas. All it eats is Ammonia, but it poops Nitrite. Nitrite is also very toxic to your fish. Another bacteria begins to eat the Nitrite, it's called Nitrobacter and it's by product is Nitrate.Nitrobacter feed on the Nitrite produced by Nitrosomonas It is your job, as the caretaker to remove that nitrate. By no means leaving it in there is "natural". You need to perform 50% water changes, every week, to keep your fish healthy.

In the wild fish constantly have a fresh supply of water. It is poor fish keeping to not do water changes on a regular basis. If you don't want to do them, do not keep fish. The only thing your fish will ask of you is to feed them, and change their water. You do not need to bond with them, take them for walks, let them outside, or even clean up after them if they have an accident. They are wonderful pets for a responsible child, because of the limited care they require. These bacteria take up a home in your filter mostly. So care needs to be taken to the filter. When changing your filter inserts you need to seed the new inserts with a piece of the old one. You don't need to change the inserts as often as the packaging says, only once it gets to dirty you cannot clean it. To clean it, I bi-weekly rinse it in a bucket of old tank water that I have removed from my water change. I actually prefer to use polyester floss in my aquaclear filters, instead of brand name supplies. I buy a large bag of it in Wal*Mart, in the craft section for about $4 Canadian, it should last you a few years. You can also use the polyester batting sheets, just make sure whatever you buy is polyester, and contains no cotton, or other natural materials because it will break down quickly, adding to the bio-load, and possibly ruining your water quality. Never rinse your filters in tap water, as the chlorine will kill all of those bacteria you so badly need for your fish to survive and you will need to re-cycle your tank. Your tank never really finishes cycling, as the bacteria are always there, and always need something to eat. If they are starved (all the fish are removed) all of the bacteria will die.


This is the one and only. Many products out in the market may claim to help cycle your tank. They don't. Well maybe I should be nicer. They do the same thing fish food would, except they are already predecomposed. It's more readily available, but it does not actually contain the bacteria, like Bio-Spira contains.
Bio-Spira needs to be constantly refrigerated, if it's not, the bacteria die. It does expire, so check the date.
After you have had your fish in the tank for a few days, and you begin to see ammonia building up, say 1ppm, then this is a good time to add your Bio-Spira. The bacteria it contains should start to use up what has built up in your tank. Only put in half the dosage, then the other half 3-4 days later. Make sure it is kept refrigerated!! Test your water and you should read 0 ppm Ammonia, 0 ppm Nitrite, and detectable nitrate. You're finished cycling when you get these results!!

Tank Maintanence  

This is pretty simple. Weekly water changes of 50%. Do not add salts, they are a waste of your $$. Most tap water contains some salt, and freshwater fish are fresh water, not marine, or brackish. Salts in freshwater has very limited uses. During water changes you need to add the appropriate amount of dechlorinator. Make sure the product removes metals, chlorine (and chloramines, if your water supply contains it). You can call your local city to find this out. When you change your water you need to vacuum your gravel, with a gravel vacuum, hehe.
You'll want to feed your fish a very assorted diet, and be aware of what each fish likes to eat. Feed 2x a day, and only what they eat in 2 minutes. Anymore than this will only pollute your tank.


Now as for the dreaded pH adjusters

These things are a debate in aquarists. Many people (and I) believe that these "adjusters" are just as useless as the products that claim they cycle your tank (with the exception of Bio-Spira). I'm sure you have heard that "this fish likes an acidic pH, this one prefers an alkaline, this one basic..." This speaks some truth, but generally most fish you can obtain is bred and raised in regular tap water, without such large drastic measures (adjusting pH) taken to keep them. They may come from those types of waters, but that does not say that they cannot thrive without them. There are definite exceptions to this. Some fish will not breed unless in a specific type of water, some will not thrive, and some still will not even live without their specific water perimeters. This is true for many Cichlids, exotic Bettas, and wild caught specimens.
Average aquarists don't want to have elaborate care. Many have three or more aquariums, and many just don't want to spend that type of time or $$. This would entail starting with pure RO water and adding buffers, buffers that cost lots of $$.
The thing with trying to "fix" your tap pH is that the tap water already has buffers in it to hold it at that pH level, steadily. Messing with the pH just messes with the buffers. Say your pH is 7.4 and you think your pH would be better at 7.0 (basic), so you put in the pH adjuster and drop it down. The next morning you are checking your pH again and *DARN IT!!* It's back up, what are you going to do? Add more, in hopes that it will stay where you want it. But it doesn't, the pH jumps back up again. By now you are eroding those buffers, and soon they will just give up, and your pH will *CRASH!!* All this time that you have been trying to make your fish's environment better, all you have done is made it worse. You have gone through what I call a Yo-Yo effect.Chances are high that your fish are completely stressed, and may become sick, and possibly die if you continue to have them endure this.
Considering that your fish will most likely live long healthy lives in your local tap water, there should be no need to mess around with your pH like this. There are "natural" ways to change your pH, like coral sand, crushed oyster shells, peat moss, bogwood, and a few others. If you want to keep any African cichlids you may need/want a higher pH for them. Then you should have a crushed coral or oyster substrate. I think if you want to explore this option more and are still interested in building your own water, you should look up the appropriate information, or you can ask me for help. I also know great websites I can refer you to that can help you with everything possible, and I have my own collective information as well.


This is another big issue. First I want you to take that "golden rule of thumb" 1 inch per gallon of water, and FLUSH IT!!!! It is nothing more than a myth. First consider Neons. They grows to around one inch. It is a long and slender fish. It is small. Do you think ten would live Ok in a ten gallon tank? That is ten inches of fish... yes; with adequate water changes they will be very happy in that tank. Now consider a ten inch Oscar (which, by the way, they can get larger then that) Do you think it would live happily in a ten gallon tank? No. It couldn't even turn around, and that is not to mention the bio-load an Oscar has...
You need to contemplate is that enough space for the fish you are thinking of getting. Do they have the swimming room they need? Are they active, fast fish? Or slow graceful thoughtful fish?
Another thing to consider is are they always in each others face? Can they have some time by themselves? Fish need this just as much as you and I do, and it is essential that they get the space they need to be by themselves, even if just for a few minutes.
Are these fish all compatible together? Do you have proper numbers of each species? Tetras, Cories, loaches, and a few other species need the company of others. A small school is six, you want to have at least six Cories, Tetras etc. This doesn't mean you can have several types of different Cories to make up a school. For example let's say you want Panda Cories, you'll need at least six Panda Cories. This gives them security and the fish that enjoy the same games as one another. It allows them to act more naturally. Just because it's a tetra, doesn't mean it will be part of the school.
Another thing that plays an important role in your stocking is size. Anything that can fit in another fish's mouth is food to the bigger fish.
The Personality of each and every fish is different. You will hear all the time that Bettas should be in species only tanks, or that they shouldn't be with anything with long fins. However, in truth every fish is different. Some fish enjoy company of others, while another may not. One may not like snails or shrimp, or another of its species, but the next will love his snail buddy, or the guppy you gave him to eat (but he never did).

And lastly, and most important, can the tank you want them to live in handle how much bio-load they are. A goldfish starts out as a small creature, and for centuries they have been kept in bowls. That is SOO wrong, because they are pooping machines and are an enormous bio-load. As babies, they should be in nothing smaller than twenty gallons per goldfish and as they get larger nothing less than 55g. They also get to at least 12" for almost every species of goldfish, many get much larger.You may have also heard the myth that a fish will not grow larger then its tank permits. Yes that is true, but in some Asian cultures the women may bind their feet, from infancy, to prevent them from growing. This is not healthy for their feet. It makes them deformed. The same goes for fish. They may *look* fine, but inside their bladder may be to large, while the kidneys to small. Their heart may be too large and the lungs to small. In short this will give your fish an untimely death, and probably very painful at that...


Now there are some things you should live by in this hobby. My personal favourite and the most common quote you'd hear on Badmans Tropical Fish Board is "Freshwater fish love fresh water". Do at least 50% weekly water changes. Bigger is better, the more water in the box the more it can dilute the toxins produced, besides who doesn't want a bigger home? And lastly use as little chemicals in your water as possible.
This is just a basic hand guide for beginners, and fish keeping has many more aspects to it, then I have mentioned. It's your responsibility to learn everything you need and want to know, and I would be more then happy to help you, it's just up to you to ask.

*We are keepers of water, collectors of fish*





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