Fish Keeper 101: Tools of the Hobby

Fish Keeper 101: Tools of the Hobby

  • Author ashenwelt
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You’re a new fish keeper! So when you start out in aquaria, grabbing that first tank, the stores give you recommendations on a bunch of stuff. You get your tank, a fishnet, a filter, a heater, and your chemicals. The thing of it is, that there are many more things that fish keepers should keep at hand for their sojourn into the hobby. Hopefully, the sales person talked to you about the “Nitrogen Cycle” and if they sent you home with fish, we would all hope you sent you home with bacteria starters. But there are more tools that really make like easier. What tools would be helpful for you?

Let’s start off with the things I would refer to as the five essentials for the fish keeper. These are things that you don’t normally bring home with your first trip to your local fish store, but in the end, they make your life easier.

The first is simply getting your water test kit. The most important test kit requirement is that it covers Nitrite and Nitrate if freshwater. Ammonia would be nice, and there are many other items to test for but in the end Nitrite and Nitrate are tests you will be completing for the rest of your aquarium keeping time. Now for saltwater, this is significantly expanded for what is tested for. So make sure you get one please.

The second is going to sound funny, but the next most important item you find in your kit is a bucket. Personally I keep a 2.5 gallon and two 5 gallon buckets. Why do you need a bucket? Well buckets have many uses in the aquarium hobby. Sometimes its for cleaning objects, or doing a snail dip for new plants. Other times its an emergency quarantine tank. Sometimes its for taking to a club meeting to bring your fish home with you.

The third is very mundane. A plastic cup. A cup that will never, ever have soap on it. Preferably one per tank. Why a cup, you already have a bucket? Well, there are many reasons for a cup. You can hydrate dried food before feeding in it, like dried worms. Why hydrate? Makes it easier on your aquatic friend’s gastral system. You can also use it to thaw frozen food or holding live food. In the end though, this isn’t just about food. Some medications will need to be premixed, as will some additives for an aquarium. They can also be used to skim things out of an aquarium, or to float an ill fish in an emergency.

The fourth isn’t even something you expect to have in an aquarium: fishing line. The number of things you can fix in an emergency with some fishing line is so vast its insane. Fishing line is basically the duck tape of the aquarium world. It can also be used to tie down plants or decorations, etc. It sounds weird but is super cheap and can be an amazing help.

The fifth is forceps or tweezers for an aquarium. They can be used to grab things without reaching in the tank, or with less reach. They help with planting and placement of décor. They can also be used for the horrific search and destroy of pest snails. You will find more and more uses as you go.

Now lets talk about some extras that just make your life easier, but are not as “essential” but more like nice to have. These are not as “essential” from day one… but you will probably end up with them. Be prepared.

Spare media bags. Yep, the media bags you can use in your filter. Why? Because you can fix your filter with it in an emergency. They can be used to make snail traps. They can be used to add odd media on demand to a filter, like if a friend wants to start a tank and you wants to be a nice fish keeper. Simply cheap and helpful.

Pure Chlorine Bleach. You are going to need bleach at some time. Not stuff with additives, the cheap and effective cleaner. Maybe to clean some tools or containers used for an illness. Maybe something for snail dips. Maybe to restore your Seachem Purigen. Your just going to need to get it at some time.

Hydrogen Peroxide. Yep. Same stuff in the bathroom. It’s a great tool to get rid of algae when you need to kill it. It also kills diatoms (brown algae like critters). It can be used out of the tank… but it can also be used, with caution, inside a tank. Research before using in a tank, but it can be done.

Liquid medication dosing / oral syringe. Often to be found free by just asking your pharmacist. You can use this for distributing live or frozen food, or dispensing medicine or using with Hydrogen Peroxide to kill algae. Lots of uses and no real investment… just awesome.

Filter floss. So when you have a spill of dirty or something you need to filter out fast, you can do basic mechanical filtration to an extreme level just filling just about any type of filter with filter floss. It also can be used to slow aquarium filtration speed when needed. What is filter floss? Simply polyester fill. Heck, some pure polyester fill for pillows sometimes works. Personally I pay the extra for the aquarium rated. Sometimes I also by matte instead of lose, but either one will work.

The above really make up your ten essentials for a fish keeper tool kit. Now just because you have the tools above, doesn’t mean you are done. In reality a fish keepers tool kit grows continuously, as does their knowledge. Here are some additional extremely helpful things to have or consider having… and this list will be updated.

The incredibly useful and helpful turkey baster. An all-powerful tool for cleaning hard to reach places, or for feeding liquid foods, or for capturing fry or live foods like daphnia. This is a very useful tool that you should consider adding to your kit.

A clean and unused toothbrush can be an incredibly helpful tool for cleaning filter components. Look at your filters before buying, but the recommendation is that if you cannot get a finger through the filter… time to buy a toothbrush. Just never wash it in soap and never use it for your teeth!

Additional Aquascaping tools, like the tweezers recommended above, can be very helpful. There are multiple styles of tweezers, as well as straight and oddly shaped scissors. Basically, everything to get into hard to reach spots to trim or cut or place objects in your aquarium.

A Siphon or water change system should have been pushed on you at your local fish store when you picked up your fish. If it was not, please consider buying one. Your life will be easier when you can change out your water with something other than a cup (unless, you have a pico tank, at which point you may need a shot glass).

TV tray or work space or worktable is absolutely vital to anyone with multiple tank syndrome (e.g. you have more than one aquarium) or if you have a high maintenance setup. They can be helpful for everyone, but if you are dealing with more than one aquarium… you need some place to do cleaning.

These may sound like an odd list, but in the end these will make your life easier. They can not be recommended strongly enough. Hope it helps you in your new hobby!


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I think this is great advice, as a new tank keeper! Do you know where I can get the test kits though? I don't have a store near me that focuses specifically on fish, or ones that carry them that I've seen. Best I can get so far is the little strips form petco.
I am always on the lookout for more information on how to grow and learn ... Nailed it!
  • teko116
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@Aquabee This is a wonderful article :)
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