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Fish Keeping, the evolving hobby!

Baby catfish
Adult catfish
Big tank
Four and six footer
The tub

I have always had a fish tank. Ever since I can remember the family home had a coldwater or a tropical tank so it was natural, I suppose, that I would have my own set up as soon as I was old enough. Pictured to the right is that tank, a cold water set-up with some goldfish, a golden orf and a cat fish 'to clean the bottom' or so I was told. This page is dedicated to that catfish, a channel (Ictalurus Punctatus), and the efforts I went through to accommodate him. When I bought him from the local pet shop I was assured he was a small fish and would live in a community environment. That's him on the bottom of the tank in the centre, under the golden orf, taken in August 1990.

This picture, on the left, was taken in September 1994. As you can see it's a bit big for a community set up. He is in a six foot by two foot by two foot, 150 imperial gallon tank and that is a bit small for him. It's filtered by two Fluval 403's that feed a small pond filter. He measures around 30 inches and is capable of reaching around 43. He eats meat in the form of trout, prawns and beef heart. He is a messy fish so the tank needs water changes of around 20 - 25 per cent every week. A few years before this was taken I was advised that he would be better off in a tropical set up, not too warm but somewhere around 25 degrees C would be best so I bought three heaters, one 300w and two 200w to keep the tank heated.

Because the tank was now a tropical tank I added a few other fish. One Quetzal Cichlid (Cichlasoma Synspilum), a Gibbiceps pleco (Pterygoplichthys Gibbiceps) and a Mother of Snails catfish (Pseudodoras Niger). It became apparent that the original bad advice I was given about the size the Channel would reach was not isolated. A great many shops in my area offered similar advice and when I then told them the size my fish had reached they normally said that I must have something else. In my opinion this is something that must be addressed in the industry. A customer must not buy a potential large fish without the prior knowledge of their full size. If they are informed and they still want the fish then fair enough, but to find yourself with a 'tank buster' when all you wanted was a load of Neon's and a few other community fish is out of order. OK sermon over.

On the whole I enjoy fish keeping very much but my learning curve was a little forced and so I found myself in at the deep end, pun not intended. The original Goldfish gained a lot of size and so I bought them a larger tank, a four foot by two foot by two foot, 100 gallon tank, pictured left. You'll notice the water butt, bought at a closing down sale. It's a 50 gallon butt that I used to expand the volume of the large tank as a way of avoiding over crowding. Again, a local fish shop told me that fish emit pheromones in a way to establish territory and locate others. I was advised that if the concentration of pheromones was too high then the fish would become unsettled, thinking that it was in a highly populated environment. On this advice I began to think of ways to expand the tank.

That same fish shop underwent a refit so I bought one set of tanks, right. These were 48 inch (l) x 12 inch (h) x 15 (w) tanks. The middle one was for some friends Convict Cichlids and the top was set up as an experimental tank. My idea was to use natural methods of filtration, ie plant life, so I bought loads of light bulbs and reflectors and a plant pack from a mail order shop. I mixed sand with aquatic safe dirt to form mud. On top of that went a mesh and then on top of that was about an inch of sand. The dirt/sand mix had a heater cable in it to avoid any stagnation. I let the tank mature and then put the plants in. The filtration was as small as I could get it but enough to create some water movement to distribute nutrients and heat around the tank, I used a Fluval 103 external filter.

I planned to follow the theme through the other two tanks and then connect them all up and then finally connect those three to the main tank. This would achieve a 100 gallon bio-filter. All went well and most of the plants grew very well, there was a fair amount of hair algae but that was easily cut back once a week, the plants were fed at weekly intervals. The problem was that I couldn't figure out a way of getting the water to flow between the three stacking tanks and the main tank and keep all the levels correct. At this point the hobby involved seven tanks and a water butt, totalling 415 imperial gallons, about 498 US gallons.

I was still looking at ways to improve the environment in the main tank. Many fish shops in my area build systems that have a reservoir tank somewhere, normally out of site. The purpose of this is to maintain stability for the fish due to the large amount of water. Any pollution's, whether from the fish or whatever, would have a large amount of water to dilute them. The overall effect would be a stable set of conditions for the fish, temperature, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia and pH. When my local fish shop went out of business and told me that his reservoir tank was available for free, I couldn't resist. Here it is pictured right, it's six foot long by four foot wide by three and a half foot high, totalling 300 gallons. You can also see that the fish keeping projects took place in the garage.

Because I couldn't figure out a way to introduce my bio filter to the system I decided to use window box style plant pots, mounted above/behind the tank. Water would be pumped up to the trough and would flow back to the main tank through gravity. I planned to plant 'marginal' plants in the troughs and they could filter the nitrates from the water. This was incorporated into the plans below.

Water would be siphoned from the main tank, then pumped to the far end of the reservoir tank. I thought about filling the tank with flow core filter media. The water would then flow to the water butt. The water butt would contain more filter media but more importantly the heaters. The newly filtered water would be colder than the tank water because of it's journey, so it's important to heat it before putting it back.


Also, by putting the heaters in the water butt takes them out of harms way so the fish cannot injure themselves or break them. The tank would have 500 gallons but also have over 36 square feet of surface area. This would give the system a fair amount of dissolved oxygen. However, as with my bio filter project, there was a problem. How could I heat 500 gallons to 25 degrees C in a garage that would reach below zero in the winter and not have the house repossessed by the electricity company? Well I couldn't think of an answer to that either, the only advice I received was to heat the room and not the tank but that still sounded expensive. I still used the water tank for the channel catfish which is when the above picture was taken, the lid was for nights, to stop the fish jumping out of the tank.

You may have noticed that this has been written in the past tense. Well, during 1996, my fish were struck with a disease. I still don't know what it was but I guess it had something to do with the three preceding dry summers that had left the UK in a drought. I think that the water contained higher than normal levels of nitrates and other toxins that had an effect on the fish. I measured the tap water at 65 ppm for nitrate, this is a bit high but added to the system it may have proved fatal. I lost the Channel, Quetzal and the Gibbiceps. They showed no traditional signs of illness and seemed to just die. During this period I took the goldfish to my dad's pond to get them away from what ever was wrong so I am now left with one tank, the 4 x 2 x 2 with the Mother of Snails (Pseudodoras Niger) with a few cichlids and a new Gibbiceps.

I would like to get back into keeping large fish but I think I'll build a big set up to start with and allow the fish to reach full maturity in that tank. I would like a 7ft x 3ft x 3ft tank with a large reservoir tank and keep a Red Tail Catfish. We'll see, maybe one day!

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