The Everything Guide to Fishkeeping

This is a general meta node guide to fishkeeping. There seems to be a lot of work that needs to be done so if you get the time please add some nodes to the links I have included here.

Please let me know if you have made or added a node, or if I have missed a node so that I can integrate it into this metanode.

The Basics

This is all off the top of my head so if you see some problem let me know :)

You first need an aquarium or a pond. I am going to focus on the aquarium side of things. Aquarium sizes are usually measured in feet or inches. This seems to be regardless of where you live. Often beginners start off with small tanks and work their way up. To some people's thinking this is a bit backwards because a smaller tank ( say 2 feet long or less) often require dedication to a regular maintenance routine. This makes sense when considering that a lower volume of water can easily get put out of whack even by small build up of fish wastes or by changes in outside temperature. People probably start small due to the lower investment involved and because of concern that a bigger tank means more problems. I have to say though that you get better value for money at reasonable tank sizes and you also get less problems relative to a smaller tank. So what do I think is a decent size? I would start at a 3 to 4 foot tank. This gives you enough size to eventually have a nicely stocked tank as well as the room to make some small mistakes as a beginner. It will also give you room to try out things as you get more confident and want to specialise on maybe one particular type of fish.

The selection of a tank should be made mainly on functional criteria. A tank must be well proportioned in order to have a decent surface area to allow gas exchange to occur. This means that a tank should be not too deep and not too narrow. A tank that is too deep will also be hard to light and the bottom of the tank will be under lit resulting in poor plant growth. So when you do look at buying a tank think about how you are going to be able to create a healthy tank environment and I would recommend avoiding "ornamental" tanks.

You will also need a good location for your tank in your home. A tank with all the equipment hooked up needs a few power points. You will probably need to get some power boards and some timers so that lights can automagically switch on and off. If you want to get tricky and you have two banks of lights you can switch the banks on in a staggered fashion so your fish don't get too startled.

Do not position your tank in direct lighting! It might be tempting to think that you can use the sun to light your tank but this can pose a number of problems. In particular small tanks exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods can turn into fish stewers as the water temperature rises. You also have less control over your tanks lighting making it difficult to get good plant growth.

In order to create a long term home for your fish you need to make sure you cover a number of bases. I have categorized a number of important areas below.

Importantly, you need to understand the aquarium environment which includes the establishment of the nitrogen cycle so that your fish can survive. Good fishkeepers also have regular maintenance routines that include changing the aquarium water, checking the water chemistry (pH, Water Hardness, Salinity, Nitrates Levels, Nitrites Levels, Ammonia Levels, CO2 Levels, Water Temperature), cleaning filters, cleaning gravel, and observing fish health and behaviour. Some aquarists add supplements to their aquarium water to get it just right or to remedy conditions. This can include adding buffers, acids, bases, black water extract, drugs, chlorine neutralizer and whole host of other items. A newly established tank also needs to be cycled in order to start the nitrogen cycle going. This can take a few days. A common problem with new tanks and over keen aquarists is the introduction of fish before the tank has cycled properly. As the new fish excrete waste ammonia spikes which can be deadly for fish.

What you do in keeping your fish will depend on whether you have a freshwater aquarium or saltwater aquarium.


A range of filtering options are available to the fish keeper. What you need depends on a number of factors including:

  • Size of your aquarium/pond
  • Design of your aquarium/pond
  • Stocking Density or Fish Load
  • Type of fish -although all fish should have the best environment possible regardless of type.
  • The fishkeeper's skill - I include under this category the commitment of the fishkeeper to a maintenance routine
  • the amount of money you have

Filters can be broken into two broad categories - External and Internal

Internal Filters

  1. Power filter
  2. Power head - also used outside the tank in a trickle filter setup
  3. Sponge filter - refers more to the filter media than the powering mechanism used
  4. Undergravel filter

External Filters

  1. Canister filter
  2. Trickle filter or Wet-Dry filter
  3. Protein Skimmer - can include an ozone pump

Filters often try to do two things. Filter out debris (floaty bits) in the tank and set up some sort of biological filtration. It's very important to have that nitrogen cycle working for you 24/7. Filters are sometimes used in combination with one filter removing debris and the other principally involved with biological filtration. The keen enthusiast who has multiple tanks with one mega filter or who is worried about diseases might want to use a UV steriliser as part of the filter device in order to kill germs/bacteria in the water.

Filter Media

The type of filter media used usually depends on the type of filtration that is being used. Quite often a couple of different types of filtration and therefore a number of different filter media are used. Please look under the filter media node:

    1. Activated carbon
    2. gravel
    3. sand
    4. Ammonia chips
    5. Filter floss
    6. sponge
    7. Bio-balls


The aquarium requirements for lightning are much underrated especially when you want to keep plants or live rocks. People generally feel that your bog standard household flourescent tube will do the trick. In most cases it won't and you'll end up with a slimey mess of unwanted algae and unhappy fish. If you intend to setup a marine or saltwater aquarium (and in particular you want a living reef) you'll be looking at some pretty serious lighting requirements. (note: more to be added soon)


Some people can't do with out various ornaments in their tank that are powered by some aeration device. While most tanks don't need extra water circulation beyond that provided by most filtration systems, various air pumps can provide decorative touches or power small filters. A nice touch is a curtain of air bubbles that can not only look nice but also get water moving in those dead spots in a tank (especially large ones) Air pumps that run off a battery can sometimes be vital to the survival of your fish when you are suddenly without a power supply. In these cases biologically "live" samples from your filters can be added to air pump powered filters.

A number of different air pump designs are available. I'll be adding them here soon.

Heating and Cooling

Aquariums are usually heated through a propose built water proof heating coil that you can get at your local fish store. These are long glass tubes with a heating coil wrapped around a ceramic core. They also have a thermostat so you can set your temperature. It is always a good idea to not trust what the gauge on the heater tells you the thermostat is set to, so also have a thermometer for you tank so that you can check that the temperature is correct. The heaters come in varying wattages and, yes you guessed it, usually it is more watts for bigger tanks. A good quality heater will last for the life your tank and provide a constant temperature in your tank. Fish are sensitive to even small fluctuations in temperature.


When deciding which fish you want to buy often the last place you want to enquire is the local fish shop. I've often found their advice to not only be plain wrong but also bordering on deceptive. I'm no expert but they have even named fish incorrectly (e.g. Bruce). This is particularly true when you are looking for a specific algae eater for your tank and end up with a psycho-fish of death that doesn't eat any algae and is single-mindedly intent on killing off all the other tank inhabitants.I recommend looking at resources online that are published by other hobbyists or chatting to other people about their personal experiences. There is nothing worse than having fish in the wrong water conditions or having a bad mix of fish. Do some research before you venture out.

I've seen some sites that even review local fish shops on a range of criteria. If you are lucky enough there might be a review on your local fish shop.


Please note freshwater fish can vary substantially in their requirements.

  1. Angel fish
  2. Archer fish
  3. Betta
  4. Discus
  5. Cichlid
  6. Goldfish
  7. Gourami
  8. Guppy
  9. Pl*co
  10. Sucker fish


I don't know a lot about marine(saltwater) fishes.

    1. Blue Tang
    2. Coral fish
    3. Dither fish
    4. Target fish
    5. Yellow Tang

Plants and Live Rock

When you buy plants you might be attracted to plants that aren't true aquatics. Plants, such as spaths are often sold by fish shops but they aren't true aquatic plants, meaning that they look pretty for a few weeks and will barely survive as time goes on. Spathiphyllum should have their roots submerged and leaves out of water.Don't expect the plant to thrive in a fully submerged state.

Make sure you read the plant FAQ at thekrib ( I've reproduced the blacklisted plant list here so you don't get stung for cash when buying plants. The scientific names are included in the FAQ.

  • umbrella pine
  • ground pines/club mosses
  • aluminum plant
  • crinkle
  • green hedge
  • underwater palm
  • spider plant
  • Chinese evergreen
  • arrowhead -- either Syngonium (the houseplant) or a species of Sagittaria that doesn't do well submerged.
  • pongol sword
  • sandriana, green dragon plant -- tall corn-like stalk, dark green sword-like leaves with white edges.
  • mondo grass, fountain plant -- Grassy, leaves in one plane.
  • Japanese rush -- looks like mondo.
  • Brazil sword, Borneo swords
  • scarlet hygro/dragon flame/alligator weed

Here is a list of plants options:

  1. Algae
  2. Amazon sword
  3. Anubias
  4. Crypt
  5. Java Moss
  6. Live rock


<to be completed>

Reference Materials

The following is a list of good references

  • Dr Axelrod's mini-atlas of freshwater aquarium fishes