60 Gallon Tank Humor me - Once bitten, twice shy.......

  • #1
I found you folks a couple weeks ago – way too late for many of my fish, but hopefully just in time to retain a small portion of my sanity.

Current status is that I’ve killed 98% of my fish – there have been nearly daily funeral processions to the toilet, highlighted by two mass die-offs. The latest was last night.

In general, I have a few questions for anyone, and I appreciate your time in going through my ranting post. But I’ve reached the point where I’m losing sleep, come to the conclusion that I’ve done everything possible wrong, and wonder if this is the right path.

The full story is 12 months ago, our family started a little oriental water garden outdoors. Nothing big or fancy – something just relaxing on our patio. For our then 6 year old’s amusement (and to grown some sense of responsibility in him), we added 3 feeder goldfish to the mix. Through rain, through cold, through poaching waterfowl, these suckers made it through a pretty harsh summer and came out looking pretty good in the fall. They had all doubled in size, and I had unexpected a new problem. This all seemed so pretty easy and fool proof, but I needed a winter solution.

So last fall, we bought a 10 gallon tank (on the advice of the local chain pet store.) While not impossible, they became a little more susceptible to problems. Some mistakes on my part, some fragile fish, and we ended up going through a couple ‘versions’ of each fish as they died off. Not bad for uninformed beginners, an undersized tank, and a hobby my son and I could enjoy.

Here’s where the fun starts – 16 weeks ago, after the last of the original three dies out, I decide that the smaller tank isn’t where the ‘fun’ is. I’ve heard that larger tanks are more stable, and I’d like to try tropical fish – no more goldfish. Since then, sixteen weeks of pure “h-e-double hockey sticks.” My son is no longer interested – he can’t get attached to anything that he knows we’re going to flush by the end of the week.

Day one – I go to the local ‘chain’ and I’m told that the 57 gallon is perfect for me. I’ll need a net, and some bio-start (Nutrafin’s product), but told that’s all I’ll need to do. I’m sold an undersized filter (Rena XP1), told I don’t need anything else but flake food, and sent on my way with a dozen neon tetras. We start slow, and over eight weeks build to a more substantial collection of 30 tetras, trying to follow along the way schooling rules and minimum numbers. On average, every third day we were holding a funeral – I had thought that this was the ‘cost’ of startup and never really was concerned. I went a week without a little one dying, and we held a small party for a ‘balanced tank.’ In the process, I had taught myself that water changes were a good thing, and that one needs to do some vacuuming occasionally. Again, no thanks to the local fish chain. A week later, we went out and bought another dozen tetras (still under the 1 inch/gallon), and things went quickly south.

We started a massive die-off. I do a little online research myself, and buy a test kit, and learn way too late that the nitrogen cycle was supposed to take place before I buy any friends.. We’re at .25/0/20. I pat myself on the back for being so close with so little information, and start the process of trying to lower the ammonia. The local chain sells me some different bio start, and I start that. Still more die. Next is Ammo-lock. And some more die. Next readings are 8/0/20, and I start to panic.

Week 13 starts with daily 25-40% water changes. I can’t use a python, so this means taking a 5 gallon pail (four to six times) up two flights of stairs and back down. For those of you who don’t get the pleasure, that’s nearly 500 lbs. An hour each day, and I’m still losing friends. A week later, I find this site, and learn about Amquel+ and proper filtration. I buy an XP3 and add that to the process. I start adding Amquel+ to the new water I’m adding, but it’s still my ‘daily’ workout – 4 to 6 buckets of 5 gallons each day. Patience is wearing thin, as we’re still losing friends. I’m down to about 15 fish, and my readings as midweek were 8/0/10. I’ve looked everywhere for a dead fish, I’ve uprooted everything in the tank, and I can’t explain the high readings. But the hour+ daily workout of water schlepping was really putting a strain on everyone. Wife (with no fish experience) tells me it shouldn't be this hard. She says she's tired of the sweaty dead fish cologne I'm constantly wearing. My child is now whining that I have no time for him. Nice Dad.

So as a last-ditch effort, I wait 48 hours and start the TSS process. I do several water changes yesterday to get the ammonia down to under 4 (wasn’t quite 2, but wasn’t 4 either) – No Amquel+ this time, and the remaining fish are all at the surface gasping for air. The full bottle of 75-gallon TSS goes in, and an hour later everyone is floating. Red gills. Sadness. Frustration. Shame. Wasted effort. And a lot of anger towards the two pet chains. Yet, oddly I still smell like that dead-fish cologne and have no time to play. Zero gain.

So here are the questions.

A – One may think I’m related to the Marquis de Sade – there’s a small sliver of me that wants to do this all over again. Convince me it’s easier than this. Convince me I’ve made all the wrong moves I’m going to make, and the next process will be better. In the end, I need a tank that take up 10 minutes a day to feed, and an hour on the weekend to clean. No more. Can this be done?

B – Seeing that there’s so little left in the tank (one tetra is holding on somehow, my heart goes out for him), what’s the best way to finish the cycle? Let the TSS run its course, or ammonia and wait? Since the tank doesn’t seem to lack ammonia at this point in time (and I shouldn’t API test during TSS), will I eventually get a cycle just with what I have? Any thoughts if the Ammonia spikes back up again to 8 in the next 8-10 days (like I expect it will?)

C – Any additional thoughts? Rules for keeping Tetras in a 57 gallon with an XP3? I’m expecting to do a 30% water change weekly once stable, but no need for anything else besides feeding, vacuuming, and testing the water.

D - If there are any 'professionals' out there, please judge the sanity of moving from a 48 cent feeder goldfish solution that was working, to a near $1000 solution that is the most frustrating thing I've done in 40+ years. Bring it on - I want to hear your best. I'll pay the co-pay if you take BlueCross.

Thanks for reading the rant. At 4a, I feel better. I still have a strong desire to TP the parking lots of Petco and Petsmart, but I feel better.

My 10 best lies during the process:
1. Don’t worry about ammonia - it’s not an issue (overheard last week).
2. You want to be under filtered (day 1)
3. You won’t need a vacuum (day 1)
4. The canister filter takes the place of water changes (day 1)
5. You can stock right away with this bio-starter (day 1)
6. You bought the wrong type of bio starter. This one really works (week 6-7)
7. You can’t have too many tetras – they allow you to go over the 1 inch rule (week 1)
8. Buy the test strips – they’re cheaper (week 6-7)
9. Buy <fill in the blank> – it will take care of the problem (almost every trip)
10. Don’t listen to them – I have a tank at home and know what to do (almost every trip)


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  • #2
Welcome to FishLore 7200604!!
I'm really sorry about your fish.
Wow, that's a heck of a post. We've either been there or have heard dozens of similar stories.
Who knew fish could be so complicated!

It looks like you've learn a lot along the way and that's a good thing.

A) Yes, you'll get there.

B) If your ammonia reading was 4 when you added the TSS, sadly, that amount of ammonia would have killed off most of the bacteria in TSS. This link will help understand TSS a little better.
Pay close attention to the part where they address conditioners that detox ammonia and remove chloramines.

C) That's about right.

D) lol, Hang in there, before you know it, you'll most likely have another tank.

Ok, so where to go from here....I feel for you with the stairs and water changes.
I'd suggest you try the TSS again, but first get the ammonia down to at the max, a reading of 1 by changing the water.
Personally, I'd do a 50% now and a 50% later. That should get the ammonia down to 2 by tonight.
Repeat tomorrow, then go the TSS route.

Is there anyway you can syphon the water out with a hose and hang the hose out of a window rather than carry buckets down the stairs? You'd still have carry fresh water up.

I think it's encouraging that you have a nitrate reading, but just to be on the safe side, test your tap water.

Good luck, hang in there. Your daughter will no longer tell you that you smell like fish and you'll both be able to enjoy the tank and your fish.

  • #3
wow!!!! sorry for all the trouble......great advice above.......welcome to the forumn.....u will get there......thankfully u found this sight.....everyone will help all they can...good luck
  • #4

All I can say is..... been there, done that, got the t-shirt.....

You are not alone in your trials and tribulations..... we learn as we go.
  • #5
Welcome to FishLore!

Lucy gave you some great advice. One thing I would do a little different though...

I think if it were me I would try to give the one remaining tetra back to the store. Empty the tank, and refill it with new water using the water conditioner SafeStart recommends. I believe it is Tetra Aqua Safe. (Actually if it were me, while it was empty, I would move it closer to the water source )

Wait 24 hours then add the SafeStart and a few fish, maybe abou 4 or 5 small ones. Then after 7-10 days if you're cycled slowly add 3 or 4 fish every two weeks until fully stocked. (Assuming your ammonia and nitrites stay at zero.)

Also, if you don't have an API Liquid test kit alreay, I would highly recommend picking one up. Test strips are notoriuos for being innaccurate.

Good Luck!
  • #6
it's ok its not your fault... its the LFSs fault, you were misled. I would recommend using another pet store/LFS as the current one dosen't know what they are on about...

a) Good for you... hang in there! You will soon find the wonders of fishkeeping!

b) 8 ammonia is crazy, and with daily water changes with amquel or prime and only one tetra, your ammonia will soon get down.

c) now you've got the idea!

d) its ok.... if things go uphill from here, you will have an awesome tank!

But from now on, try find another LFS, that knows what they are talking about and tell us what they say, and we will verify it for you! Once you have got a trustworthy LFS and they know you as a regular customer, they will be willing to give you good advise! If you have any queries, I'm not so experienced, but I'm absolutely certain that shawnie or lucy or ken (aquarist???) will help you out!

Good luck, my heart goes out to the tetra too!

Just don't give Petco your money!

BTW please don't give up... its worth it!


  • #7
Oh, just noticed something with your tank.
Since the heater is submersible, it would be a good idea to position it closer to the gravel. You wouldn't have to unplug it with every water change.
Heat rises, so it'll help distribute the heat a bit better.
Evaporation can expose it causing it to malfunction.
  • #8
Welcome to Fish Lore! I, too, ended up here after being told stupid things by Petsmart, like you have to let the tank run for two weeks before adding fish. And oddly enough, we also used feeder goldfish in the pond I had as a kid and they thrived, growing to at least 6", but back to the issue at hand. We bought our 3y/o a 20 gallon tank, two platys and a Molly for her birthday. I had a vague understanding of the nitrogen cycle but the more I researched the worse I felt. I spent at least a week worrying and feeling guilty about subjecting my daughter's fish to the torture. And to make my guilt even stronger, the female platy had fry. In researching what to do, I got a crash course in livebearer reproduction and realized that the poor fish would be constantly harassed by the male--a double whammy with the ammonia torture. An impulse purchase of a 37g tank provided a solution to the platy issue. Adding TSS to my daughter's tank cycled it within a week and fixed the ammonia torture. The TSS failed in the 37g because of my own stupidity of using water with water conditioner to top off the tank one day, killing the bacteria. Water changes here aren't nearly as awful as they are for you but I have to fill up the tank one 1-gallon milk jug at a time. Like an idiot, I had to buy a 5 gallon tank and promptly killed 13 red cherry shrimp by thinking TSS would protect them. They were ultimately for my daughter's tank but they went into the 5 gallon until they could grow beyond fish snack size. So Mommy killed all the shrimp she was soooooo thrilled about, go Mommy! A third impulse buy has left me at the mercy of a stranger's honesty because I have already paid for more shrimp that don't have a safe home here, so he's holding onto them for me--I hope... I continue to do things even though I know better, like change out the entire substrate of my 37g from gravel to sand because I felt so guilty about the rough gravel's effect on my corys. And I still want more tanks! [facepalm]. I'm so unsure about things that I've asked so many questions that people are sick of me here.

The whole point of that long story is that you're definitely not alone in your fish-related sadomasochism.

A: it will be easier and once you get through the cycle, you'll have the easy maintenance you're after. If you're worried about filtration, you can always get a second filter, you can never had too much filtration. I've got two on my 37g and would have two in anything bigger.

B. It's up to you if you want to drop the money on another bottle of TSS or just keep up with water changes and detoxing every day with Prime or Amquel+. I'm torn on that point too because I sometimes feel like its failure was my fault. Read the link Lucy gave you; I've read it probably a hundred times. But if your ammonia goes to 8 while using the TSS, Tetra says to do a water change.

D. We keep doing this because we're determined to prove to ourselves that we can because we think it shouldn't be this hard. If we give up, we'd feel it's admitting that we're not smart enough to do something as "simple" as keep a fish. Plus, we've already dropped a ton of cash on the equipment so we'd be angry that we wasted so much money.

I'm sure other Fishlorians will be along to offer more guidance because they're awesome like that. And on that note, it's time to do my daily water changes.

  • #9
This would be my plan of attack.

Put that neon in a bucket with an aerator.

Empty the entire tank, gravel and all.
Rinse the filter well in tank water.

Refill the tank using conditioned water, add the neon back, wait 24hrs and use some tss.

Do not overfeed him, just a pinch is plenty once a day, with a bare bottom tank you can also see any buildup on the bottom (to clean out).

There is no reason your ammo level should get that high that quickly unless there is a dead fish or lots of decomposing material in there, minimize that part and most of your headache will br be alleviated.

Monitor your water params, if you go the tss route wait to do any water changes till after 10 days, although if its really cleaned out that one little fish probably won't be making a huge amount of impact anyhow. It'll be fine just keep it to where you can really see what's going on in the tank, I.e. clear bottom and just a few fish.
  • #10
Welcome to fishlore

Unfortunetly many of us have had similar troubles. If you keep perservering and listening to the great advice on here, you'll find yourself in a place where you can enjoy your fish and not have them die off all the time.

I'd just like to say that neon tetras can be terribly delicate. I've had them quite a few times, and I'd always have 1 drop off every few months or less, and this was in a well-cycled very established tank too. I think in my area its probably more to do with mass-production/over-breeding, there are just so many around, and the LFS/LPS have their losses too. If I were you, I'd look into getting some hardier fish once your tank is cycled, and then once your tank is established (say at least 1 month after its completely finished cycling) look into the beautiful little neons again.


  • Thread Starter
  • #11
Thank you for all the wonderful advice. Your encouragement is refreshing, and I'll try to keep all up to date on progress. All the help I can get at this point is appreciated

The only update I have is that my luck seems to holding constant. The last 'surviving' tetra was just faking it, so we had one last funeral at sunrise today.

Went out and got another bottle of TSS this morning, but when I arrived home realized that the bottle was expired 12 months.

With the 'flexibility' of an empty tank, I'm cleaning/changing/and re-changing until all is right for TSS. I'll go back and fight the fight with the LFS, and also get a bottle of aqua safe.

Get the heater moved, remove the gravel, clean the filter, and all the other advice is appreciated. I'll see what I can do not to get in a car wreck on the way over to the LFS.

  • #12
What was the date on tss?
  • Thread Starter
  • #13
"Sell by Jul 2009" was on a white price-like sticker on the bottom of the bottle.

There was also some sort of black code under this imprinted on the bottle, probably lot and date. The numbers didn't register with me.

Found some 'new' product on the shelves - all with OCT 2010 dates. Didn't feel too comfortable with the expired bacteria, so I made the switch.

Ammonia in tank now reads between .5 and 1. Aqua safe is in the tank. All looks clean, fresh, and new. And it's been 10 hours since I lost my last fish! Of course, the tank is also fishless right now, so the 'accomplishment' is more relief than any actual progress or feat. Baby steps.

Again, thanks to all for the support.
  • #14
make sure you wait to use the TSS till at least 24 hours after adding any water conditioners, including aquasafe.


  • #15
great advice from everyone
just wanted to welcome you!!
  • #17
I may be the only one to notice this but tetras aren't very good for cycling tanks they need decent water quality and don't take well to the cycling process. Try and ger some hadier better fish to cycle with like platys and danios work the best!

  • Thread Starter
  • #18
The 24-hour clock has started. We'll be waiting the full 24 hours (or more) - gotta pay reverence to the one who brought me into the world tomorrow !

For tomorrow's TSS/starter fish, I'll steer clear of the tetras - warnings heard! We're a big Disney-friendly family, so the Mickey Mouse Platy has a good bit of initial appeal.

Second thought - we may just go with a std platy. Killing Mickey may be a whole new low for us.

And thanks for the warnings on TSS and cycling, Lucy. I've done a number of searches the past three days on TSS, and think I'm under control. (probably a false sense of security.) I realize nothing is guaranteed (TSS), or even predictable. I took a good bit of chemistry in college, so I understand a little of what's going on. There are a good number of water parameters that play a role (chemicals, temperature, water movement, media, salinty, etc.) Far too much to keep track of, so any predictions go out the window.

However, it's much easier for me to have the patience with a near empty tank than one nearly stocked. Losing the fish was hard - I really felt panicked over the past two-to-three weeks. There's almost a sense of calm serenity and curiosity now that the damage is done. We hit the worst case - the thing I had feared from the beginning. Just pick up the pieces, accept what's happened, document it so that the same mistakes aren't repeated, dust myself off, and move on down the right path.

I also consider myself a pretty quick learner. I may find the guy who 'sold' me down the first path, ask his opinion, and immediately do the opposite if I can't verify it with all of you

Again, you have my thanks and appreciation.


  • #19
I may find the guy who 'sold' me down the first path, ask his opinion, and immediately do the opposite

Sounds like your going to do just fine.
  • #20
  • #21
Welcome to Fishlore! I've been down this path myself way before finding Fishlore. You are not alone. Hang in there, you'll make it.
  • #22
Welcome to Fish Lore!

I hope you enjoy the site.



  • #23
It is possible to do a fishless cycle with TSS but I would advise against it unless you constantly check your water params, otherwise your kinda shooting yourself in the foot since the bacteria will be waiting for you to deliver an ammonia source rather than having a fish that's constantly producing it. It would be nice to see some data on a fishless TSS cycle though to get an idea of what works and what doesn't.
  • #24
good job! keep on hanging in there!
  • #25
Another recommendation....general good practice is to use a quarantine tank for new introductions, even when you trust your LFS and in this case I assume there's still not one found that has a "track record" you can count on. The 10 gallon is ideal as a quarantine tank for small fish. Also, if buying platies, decide whether a mass number of babies will be feasible. If not, buy platies of the same sex.

  • #26
I would really get that ammonia down to zero before adding the SafeStart and those Platies.
  • #27
Sorry to hear about your experience. I went a little less whole-hog, but had my first 2-3 fish die horribly in my brand new tank after keeping a couple alive in a smaller one for a few years, then found this place ... and have learned a lot in a short time.

My son lost interest in having a running, yet empty tank for about 6 weeks. He thought the tests and color matching were fun for about 2 weeks. And for most of that time, I didn't think I had a single bacterium in the place.

The trick for me was borrowing an absolutely filthy old filter from a friend of mine. Suddenly the ammonia disappeared and the nitrite not long after, and my undergravel pulled lots of bacteria into the gravel.

Now, my son and I spend some time checking out the fish each day and feeding them together. Our favorite game is "find the sucker-fish" (the Bristlenose Pleco).

If I can do it, you can too.
A Sneaky Fatman
  • #28
Best of luck, the whole learning process can be a bit overwhelming at first, but you are doing the right thing for the fish and that's what matters in the long run IMO.

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