So many beginner mistakes I could write a book

  • #1
First and foremost, thank you to all the knowledgeable people here who take their time to help people just getting into fish keeping.

I have fallen victI'm to my local large pet store chain and the mistake of taking their advice rather than reading on my own from places with no vested interest in profit. I either had people "helping" me who were either completely clueless as to how to start a healthy and successful aquarium or ones limited by corporate policy that did not allow them to actually give me good advice. That out of the we go. Please bear with me as this might run a little long, but for the experienced who can deal with reading all the mistakes I have made and am trying to correct I greatly appreciate it.

I have never really had too much interest in this hobby until seeing a gorgeous saltwater setup at a buddy's house. The sheer beauty of the live coral and vibrant fish peaked my interest. I figured freshwater would be easier to learn on and a smaller tank would be much better suited for a new guy than a big one. That was my first mistake. I voiced that concern at the large chain store and was commended for making the right choice to start small. I decided on a Marineland 20 gallon complete starter kit and took it home. When I asked when to add fish I was told by 2 employees almost simultaneously to setup the tank, add the water conditioner to remove chlorine, and let the the water run through the filter in the tank for 24 hours. I was "ready to go" after that. It was that easy! I couldn't believe how simple this new hobby was.

Fast forward 24 hours and I had a setup 20 gallon tank with crystal clear water, a fake reef, small bubbler, and blue gravel substrate. I went back to the store and left with 4 Glofish Tetra, 1 Ghost Tetra, 1 Glass Catfish, 1 Pictus Catfish, 1 Redfin Shark, 1 Rosy Barb, and 1 Angelfish. I acclimated the fish to the water by floating the bags for 15 minutes and in they went. I am sure you guys and gals are starting to see the problem just from the previous couple sentences. Never once did anyone ever mention the nitrogen cycle and how critical it is to a healthy tank. They also made no mention of schooling fish, incompatible fish, or the fact that half the fish they were selling me to already overstock my 20 gallon tank would grow to an adult size of 6" outgrowing the tank completely. That being said, I blame myself as well for not using my own better judgment and reading for myself rather than trusting the store employees straight away.

The next morning the tank was milky white cloudy which from every picture reference I can find was a bacterial bloom. This is where my internet research started and I realized just how bad I screwed this up due to my own ignorance. I immediately tried to return all the fish which since the fish appeared healthy, they would not accept as their return policy guaranteed healthy fish and nothing more. Before I left angry, I purchased a 75 gallon tank, digital thermometer, Fluval 406, liquid test kit, and a Fluval bubbler and 2 air stones. I only purchased it there out of convenience as I was on a tight schedule and had no time to go anywhere else. One thing I had already gained from the community was this was one of the rare instances where bigger is absolutely better for the beginner as volume of water in the tank guaranteed the most minimal effect on the fish due to my mistakes so I purchased the biggest tank I could fit in the car. After wiping down and filling the tank, letting it settle to room temperature, letting the filter run for a bit, and adding the dechlorinating additives, I added the fish as I figured since the water in the 20 gallon was already way wrong, that the fish would have a much better shot at living in the bigger tank.

Right after transplanting the fish I thoroughly rinsed the substrate, wiped the tank clean, washed the decoration, all with only tap water and a rag/brush. I filled it with fresh water, dechlorinated it with the conditioner and added pure ammonia to 4ppm to start the fishless cycle that should have happened to begin with. 6 days into the cycle there was still no drop in ammonia, 0ppm nitrates, and 0ppm nitrates with the water at a heated constant 81 degrees. This "couple week" fishless cycle I read about wasn't appearing to do anything. I added a bottle of Tetra Safe Start which clouded the water for a few hours and waited 2 days. This morning I finally got readings that show some promise. 7.4pH which has been consistent, 4ppm ammonia, 0ppm nitrites, and between 10 and 20ppm nitrates. Being that the ammonia level has not dropped any, I added Prime figuring the cycle may have stalled as well as added about half a gallon of conditioned water to make up for evavoration (my house is always cold and my A/C is oversized so my humidity is usually in the mid 30% range explaining the evaporation).

This morning the 75 gallon tank is milky white, all fish seem active, readings are 7.8pH, 0ppm ammonia, 0ppm nitrites, and 0ppm nitrates. Temp is at 73 degrees. None of the fish are behaving irregularly or showing any change in color so I see no visible signs of stress. Once I get an ammonia and nitrite reading of 0 and a nitrate reading under 10ppm after a partial water change in the 20 gallon in 24 hours, I want to start the 75 gallon over the same way. The issue is I know I will be horribly overstocking it which will likely cause aggression issues with the incompatible fish due to a lack of room to stay clear of one another. I have nothing left in my budget and somehow have managed to not have any loss of life and want to keep it that way.

Any suggestions on how to go from here would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
  • #2
have you thought about taking the fish to another store and seeing about getting an in store credit and exchange the fish to something more suitable for your situation?
  • #3
Half these guys like warmer water (upper 70s- tetras and Angel) and the other half like cold water (lower 70s- barb and shark), not sure of the others though but the catfish likes being in groups and grows rather large (if I'm thinking of the right species).

The best way to protect your current stock until you can wok everything out is to do daily large water changes so you keep the toxins from building up. Adding plants will also help protect them.
  • #5
The filter media from your 20 gallon which you have just fish-less cycled, you should add that media to the filter of your 75g. Instant cycle for your tank with fish in it

  • #6
Loads of information in my thread for new starters like us (it's called "extremely new to this.." I've asked lots and lots of simple questions that have all been answered. Have a read through, you might find some useful information there

  • #7
Welcome to fish lore!

In the tank with your fish(the 75G right?) I would add a bottle or two of tetra safestart that is for a tank of your size. TSS has the beneficial bacteria (BB) that grow in your filter during a fish less cycle. TSS is supposed to cycle a tank in 14 days, but with all the fish you have, It might take longer. I have used TSS many times and it works very well.
  • #8
92TurboFox, welcome to Fishlore.

You should write a book, at least an article for your local newspaper and send the copy of it to that chain's CEO. By keeping quiet you are enabling that awful chain store to cheat customers. Moreover, novice fishkeeper's who don't find Fishlore or similar source of accurate information, give up the hobby, keeping our numbers from growing.
  • #9
May I ask what large chain store this was? (I think I can guess)
  • #10
wow 92TurboFox, you've really hit the jackpot haven't you? Your 75G is obviously not cycled yet, but kudos to you for getting the larger tank to deal with the mess your LFS contributed to on your smaller one. I don't feel like I'm able to give good advice yet, but think that daily water readings will be necessary, especially since the tank is not cycled. I would definitely add media from your 20G tank to your 75G one. When I set up my current tank less than 2 months ago (had several before, but it's been 20-30 years ago) I used gravel from my sister's tank which had been set up for over 20 years and added it to the filter housing and some in the substrate. It took only a few days before I was getting zero ammonia/nitrite readings and low nitrate readings. The tank was cycled in a few days. I hope you are able to continue on with no loss of life, kudos to you on putting aside your feelings for the LFS and getting another tank for the good of the fish you already had instead of just saying "oh well", which is what many would do unfortunately. I'm still making mistakes, but by sharing experiences we all learn. Thanks so much for your honesty and detail in your post. I may not be able to help, but am glad to learn from your experience.
  • #11
As a newbie, I empathize with your tank set up blues. One thing the PS advised me, but I didn't see it in your setup info, was to add a bacteria supplement, and I could add the fish the same day! That was music to my ears since I was so anxious to get started. So, for a 13G tank, they had sold me, like you, way too many, and two of everything, etc, etc. It took a month to finally get the nitrate problem resolved; and I believe that was the result of losing a tetra, a dwarf gourami, a platy, and a swordtail - they all lived through the initial new tank syndrome, but died within a month after the tank water situation finally cleared up. I then bought a 36 gallon and immediately overstocked it, and then a 65 gallon tank, and overstocked that! I returned two Oscars and two plecos (well, actually donated them back to the store) because I soon learned (through information sites such as this one) that you NEVER (hardly ever) can listen to a PS associate! I think I'm in good shape now; just lost one dwarf gourami to a mouth fungus (so sad); but was able to get the other three back to health, so I feel I have learned a lot since starting this wonderful hobby in January. Whew. Thank goodness for fishlore!
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
HI welcome to FishLore!!

A couple of things.
A fishless cycle using household ammonia only takes 6-8 weeks.
An ammonia reading of 4ppm would most likely cause the Tetra Safe Start to fail.
Here's some info:

I did get a little lost in your post.
Was ammonia added to the tank with the fish in it or the new 75g?
Sorry about the confusion Lucy. I am less frustrated that the tanks are having problems and extremely frustrated that I was given misinfirmation by the store that could potentially be fatal to the fish. Nothing to do with the money and everything to do with it being unethical whether it be lack of employee training or something else.

No ammonia was added to a tank with fish in it and none to the 75 gallon ever. Ammonia was only placed in the 20 gallon tank after I decided to start fresh. The readings in the 75 gallon as of right now are 7.8pH, 0ppm ammonia, 0ppm, nitrites, and 0ppm nitrates. This tank is currently at 74 degrees with no heater and has not fluctuated at all in the readings ever and the temperature rises and falls by about 2 degrees in the tank throughout the day. All fish seem active, their correct color, and don't seem to be exhibiting any visible signs of stress. Aside from the milky white haze which is starting to fade this morning, everything looks ok in the 75 gallon except for the nitrate reading of 0ppm. Tetra Safe Start was added to this tank last night and will hopefully get it on the right track.

I have not tested the 20 gallon since yesterday, but after reading the thread you linked, I am almost certain the TSS will fail even though I did have a nitrate reading yesterday. I am going to give it a couple more days but I am not hopeful. Thank you for the help.
  • Thread Starter
  • #13
I didn't name it in the initial post as I didn't want to make it look like I was bashing their poor training, bad business practices, or combination of both. Since someone asked though, it was PetSmart.

I will certainly link them to this thread once it progresses a little further, however I highly doubt my voice or even a full boycott from an established site like this would even make them give it a second read, much less alter their business/training practices.
  • #14

That is a great idea sharing this thread with them. However, regretfully, you might be right, they won't bring about any changes.

I no longer shop at PetSmart. I was there once looking at fish and noticed that several tanks had dead fish floating in them. I pointed this out to the associate, who without looking at me or the tanks I was pointing out at said:"Don't look at the dead fish, look at the ones that swim. They are more fun." He never stopped doing what he was doing and he never asked me if he could help me.

It occurred to then that stores like this possibly don't care for the serious fish hobbyists. We know what we are doing, we buy fewer fish because our fish don't die as often, and we won't buy a different fish when they don't have what we want. They prefer impulsive people new to the hobby to whom they can sell a lot of stuff.

I won't enable them by shopping in their store.
  • Thread Starter
  • #15
I know it's been a while, but I am again at a loss. My 20 gallon tank is going strong with almost crystal clear water, stocked with 4 neon tetra, one ghost tetra, 4 ghost catfish, and 1 male betta. I have been doing bi-weekly 25% water changes and the water reads a constant pH of 7.4, 0ppm Ammonia, 0ppm Nitrites, and about 10ppm Nitrates. All fish are active and healthy. I thank this site for helping me get that tank in shape after all the mistakes I made straight away.

The 75 gallon however is where I am confused. I lost an Angelfish, 3 Pictus Catfish, and a Blue Gourami due to a stupid mistake with the pH where it went from 7.8 to 7.0 in a matter of minutes. It is since back to 7.4 and holding steady. The confusing part is that it has been almost 6 weeks since the tank was setup and aside from a couple test readings of 0.5ppm Ammonia 4 weeks ago, the tank has consistently tested 0ppm Ammonia, 0ppm Nitrite, and 0ppm Nitrate. As of now I have not changed any water in 2 weeks and am reading 0's across the board. The water is crystal clear and all fish look healthy. After the loss of the other fish, my girlfriend added fish while I was at work. The current stocking is 1 Rainbow Shark (originally thought to be Redfin), 3 Angelfish, 6 Rosy Barb, 2 Blue Gourami, and a Common Pleco. How is it possible that all results are 0 for this amount of time? For the life of me, I cannot figure out how there is 0 ammonia as well as no appearance of nitrite or nitrate. Anyone have any ideas? Thanks again for all the help.
  • #16
And tetras and ghost cats need to be in at least a school of 6 and common plecos need at least 125 gals

-Cacret, proud owner of a happy and peaceful betta.
  • #17
Are you using API liquid test? Did you check the date to make sure it is not outdated? Are you banging and shaking nitrate bottle #2? It is notorious for showing false results.
  • #18
Can I just say - you are doing great Handling the mistakes extremely efficiently and as best you can - you will make quite the aquarist now you have found your reliable sources.

A lot of us made exactly the same mistakes you did, and handled them far worse I can tell you now.

I wish you continued luck, and that these problems get solved with no unnecessary losses.
  • #19
I'm so glad your doing everything you can to make it work for the fish.

The 24 hour period that the pet store said is right to a point, if you use a bottled bacteria but you need that 24 hour period to make sure your equipment is running correctly, the water is up to the temp you want and there are no leak issues with the tank, after that 24 hour period you can add fish and then add the Bottled Bacteria, the sad this is that most don't mention cycling a tank, I actually walked in watched a guy pick out his tank, equipment and fish, I had to say something so I stopped and talked to the guy, and told him if he was set on getting his fish so soon, to go home set up the tank, let it run and then come back for the fish in 24 hours and pick up a bottle of Tetra Safe Start, and also confirmed that he wasn't buying to many fish in the beginning and getting appropriate fish for the tank, I couldn't believe the clerk at the store was just leading him around knowing he was getting everything that day and not saying a word
  • #20
I'm a little late to the party but welcome to Fishlore.

It's great that you just didn't give on the hobby with all you hve run into.

There is no need to conduct daily water changes if your API test kit doesn't indicate so.
  • #21

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