To me, an aquarist is not someone who just keeps a few fish in a tank and slips a few flakes into it at some time during the day. This person wonders why he loses a fish every so often and visits his local dealer to replace them with fish he often knows nothing about, only to repeat the cycle. We’ve all met them.
It gets right up my nose to meet the guy who keeps on about his tank and tank mates without having read about the hobby in any way. The free library is probably within spitting distance, yet our friend is quite content to keep on killing his wee fish and replacing them. He also admits he knows nothing about water quality, fishes requirements or conditions and has no desire to find out.
Shortly before joining the FCAS, I tried to help a neighbour who wanted a fair-sized tank for his living room. So, I contacted a friend who had a 48″ x 12″ x 15″ aquarium for sale quite cheaply. I drove around 50 miles with the neighbour to collect and deliver the tank. At the same time, I was offered a collection of rift valley cichlids, but as I was concentrating on Corydoras I passed the offer on to my neighbour who had just got the 4′ tank. In a nutshell, the chap acquired around two dozen, Malawi/ Tanganyika cichlids, some quite rare, complete with water from the original tank, for a mere £50. I helped with the setting up of the tank and fish, advising of test kits and appropriate in-tank furnishings for these particular fish. All this advice was ignored, with an “if the die, they die..” attitude! And guess what, they did! The whole lot. I felt deeply that I had been party to the massacre of a collection of really beautiful fish. Hardly an aquarist, eh?
When I first started keeping fish, I begged, borrowed and bought all the books I could get hold of, particularly relating to the fish I was most interested in. Our ‘loo’ was turned into a library and I spent more time studying than I care to admit. Günther Sterba’s ‘Freshwater Fishes of the World’ was my bible, which I still have like an old friend. One thing I did find is that there are many contradictions between books and all published material. I had to use my ‘loaf’ and compromise, an attitude that has ruled my thinking over the years since.
So, what is an aquarist?
To me it is the person who continually experiments in the hobby; the person who seeks out information from individuals, clubs and who also shares information that has been acquired.
When I moved to Scotland I started on a 5 year experiment – joined the local aquarist club (Perth Aquarist Society), had my fish house built, and went into learning. I cleaned a lot, bred a lot and spent an awful lot! Then I moved into the glens and, regrettably, abandoned the hobby for over 20 years. I now feel like the new boy, starting to learn again, which is quite a headache at times, with my memory!
As most of you folks will know I have been trying to breed Corydoras metae. I was trying to rear them for a long time with many losses, but I finally cracked it. I’m now rearing a good number and have had to separate the parents, because they kept on spawning and to give the other corys a chance. A fat lot of good that did me. I’ve got three other species set up and I have plenty of time and patience. Recently I bought a new cory book from Terry’s at Bethnal Green. Amazingly, some of the information equated to the exact method I was using to spawn Corydoras metae. I was really chuffed to see the written information concurred with my thinking.
A few meetings back I mentioned my association with Terry Cruickshank; my chief mentor down south. I was recently going through my collection of old Aquarist and TFH magazines and came across an advert for Aquarian flakes which had Terry’s ‘mug-shot’ of when he had been awarded the FBAS Supreme Champion with Corydoras rabauti. Terry had quite a small fish shed in those days, but did make the most of it. Cabomba came out of his tanks in yards, not feet, of beautiful bright green whorls. “Ow much do you want”, Terry would ask, and promptly pull it out by the six-foot length and over. This was grown under a daylight roof. One thing that stands out in my memory is a particular tank of his that had all the attributes of a mass of mud and clay (probably peat) which, on a sweep of the net, revealed a collection of his show fish. Just goes to show, all that doesn’t glitter may be gold indeed. There was a net full of nuggets, a variety of real specimens.
I have always fostered the belief that every single tank is a unique system, effected by its position, water, heat, fish and all the components that create a culture of animals. Because of this, I will never use a tank without first painting out all sides and bottom in a variety of colours that one would find around rivers and streams, i.e. dull greens, browns and black, thus making a better environment for both fish and aquarist. It all comes down to individual tanks, situations, collections of fish, furnishings and, above all, individual management from the aquarist. No two are ever identical. Yet we all produce reasonable results in fish quality, whether for showing, breeding or simply for display. At the end of the day, those of us who have success become aquarists and can compete in whatever branch of the hobby we choose.
However strongly one feels over such things, however, I believe we should only give them as our own views. With the concept that each tank system is unique we can only advance them as our own findings in our own tanks. Criticism should be welcomed and notched up. After all, none of us knows it all and learning is what keeps the hobby so interesting, and friendships among aquarists.
Oh, well, back to the drawing board to try to entice some lust among some of my corys. I have a theory – Viagra. Maybe one tablet dropped in at night, or possibly a 5% solution, 1 to 3 drops three times a day…This article was originally published in the Fair City Aquarist Society Newsletter.