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An Aquarium Horror Story – aka our first Tank | Home Fish Aquarium Guide

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An Aquarium Horror Story – aka our first Tank


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Our first fish tank. I don’t know exactly how long it’s been. It was probably around 1998 or so. Aquarium information was hard to come by online still. I remember at one point during that nightmare thinking I should get a book, but didn’t know where to start. We had always liked looking at the fish at the wal-mart in town. Years ago we looked at fish in a pet store that was in the mall in town. It was just part of our routine. One night though – they had a sale on 5 gallon tank kits. It included “everything you need” to start and was 30-40 dollars I think. We bit at the offer and took it home. It was a hex tank and just fit on our bookshelf in the hallway. It was a tight fit getting the light cover off to add water, but it was manageable. The tank has a rim around the top as well so you can’t get to the entire surface, but…. well why would we need to get at it too much?

I don’t think we got fish that night. We did get gravel though and two bright neon decorations – cave and mountain.


We filled it with water and hooked everything up. Added a heater (which I think may not have come with the tank.) In a few days we went out and bought some fish. There was no one there to tell us about the nitrogen cycle, or to find which fish might best be suited to our tank. In fact it seems like it was hard to find someone to simply net a fish and take it with us. We really liked mollies and so we got two.

Days went by and lost a fish, went to replace it, lost another, replaced, lost another, replaced. Tried to figure out what was wrong. Mollies like salt – added aquarium salt. I think we had a few live plants at this point which we killed with the salt. Algae took over. Another half dozen or so more fish later (including some baby fish)…. we threw in the towel.

Sadly that is typical of many peoples “first tank” experiences.

So, what mistakes can we count?

For starters a 5 gallon tank is awfully small. Things go out of whack quickly in smaller water volumes. A larger tank is easier to start with. Mollies aren’t exactly known as easy fish to start with either. Platies may have been a better choice. Of course, the idea of getting fish within a few days of setting the tank up is also a no-no.

Through that time we did get an ammonia test kit, but unfortunately it proved very difficult to read (shades of yellow.) I don’t think we were able to find a nitrite test kit.

The tank position in the bookcase looked really great. However, it was a pain in the neck to do water changes because of the hood of the tank being molded to it (with just the opening for the light cover) as well as the shelf above it being so close it was hard to get the vacuum pump in and out. It was even more challenging to actually add water, in addition the tank leaked and dripped on some of the books on the lower shelf.

Through the whole experience I don’t know how many fish we killed. We did go to a local fish store and get a few at one point, we got probably a dozen or more at wal-mart (maybe two dozen) by the time things were finished.

It always bothered me that we just threw in the towel. I hate quiting at things. Which is why when our oldest son was in first grade or so I dug the old tank again, researched online and resolved to make another go of it. This time with much better results. (In spite of the 5 gallon size.) Now you might even say we have MTS (Multiple tank syndrome) because we have added a 10 gallon tank and are thinking about replacing the 5 with something bigger as well.

So, I’m writing this to let you know that even if you had a horror story experience with your first attempt at fishkeeping, don’t think you are forever doomed to kill fish. Stop, read, research, plan and regroup. Then make another go of it.

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February 15, 2011 - 5:10 PM
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