Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Setting up your first aquarium

Dwarf gourami, Trichogaster lalius
Dwarf gourami, Trichogaster lalius


Everyone has to start somewhere and provided that you set up your first tank properly you will get off to the best start. If it is rushed or done incorrectly you will have problem after problem with the aquarium and little in the way of pleasure.

The aquarium

The very first thing is to select an aquarium, size shape and even what it is made from all have to be considered. From the fishes point of view the most appropriate and easiest to maintain is a regular oblong tank where width and depth are broadly the same. Deep tanks although they have a greater volume than shallow tanks still only hold the same number of fish, but deeper tanks are better for some deep bodied species like angelfish or discus.

Try to avoid novelty tanks which are designed to make a statement rather than house livestock. Bowls even large filtered bowls are awkward to clean properly, standard aquatic equipment isn't really designed for them and the filters aren't very efficient.

Finally almost everyone wishes that they had bought a larger tank than the one they did buy. The cheapest way to get the right tank is to get the one that you really want the first time rather than waste money upgrading.


There is a bare minimum of equipment which should be considered essential.

  • Combined heater/thermostat
  • Filter
  • Lighting
  • Thermometer
  • Net
  • Test kits
  • Siphon pipe

Optional extras

  • Air pump
  • Algae magnets or scraper
  • Gravel vacuum

Siting the tank

This is more about where not to put the tank.


  • Direct sunlight, this will lead to problems with algae
  • Don't place the tank near to a radiator as this will cause temperature fluctuations or worse.
  • Any are with a lot of household traffic.
  • A gallon of water weighs 10lbs a fully kitted out 4ft aquarium could weigh in excess 650 lbs so make sure the floor is sound.

Make sure there is a power point in a handy location for the tank and keeping the weight of the tank in mind use a proper custom built aquarium stand rather than an old chest of drawers or similar because they are not designed to take the weight.

Once you have decided on a location the next stage is to make sure that the stand is absolutely level or it will place undue strain on the aquarium once it is filled and glass can be very unforgiving if it is put under to much pressure.

Once the tank is where you want it and the level checked it's time to add the equipment. Some units now come with everything fully installed while others allow you to add all the custom parts yourself to suit your tanks needs.

The lighting and heating are straight forward and come with instructions the filter too should come with some instruction about how to set it up and this doesn't normally present any problems in regular shaped aquariums, bowls on the other hand may be a little trickier.

Setting up

Once all the equipment is installed It is easier and less messy to add the substrate and hard landscape before filling the tank with water. It is also worth checking to see if the tank is still level once it has some weight in it.

Empty fish tank ready to begin

setting up a fish tank

Hard landscape for a fish tank

It is quite normal for the new tank to go cloudy after a day or so, it is important that you just leave it at this stage and let it clear on it's own. The cloudiness is caused by a bacterial bloom due to nutrients in the water. Once the nutrients have been used up a balance will be reached and the water will become crystal clear. If you keep trying to change the water to make it clear you will be adding more nutrients and the bacterial bloom will keep going. This bacterial bloom can last any where from 24hrs to a week.

Maturing the tank

Perhaps the one area where most new hobbyist come unstuck and run in to problems than any other thing in fish keeping, usually after being poorly advised by shop staff. The tank absolutely must be matured (cycled) before any fish are added. Otherwise it will lead to the premature deaths and sick survivors of your new fish and problems right from the start.

Stocking the tank

There are all kinds of things to consider when stocking a tank for the first time. Don't fall in to the trap of getting two of everything, some fish are loners and another of the same kind will be seen as an intruder. Other fish live in huge shoals and really need at least five of their own king in the tank. It's up to you to research the fish BEFORE buying them and don't rely on the shop assistant to tell you, they are biased because thy have a vested interest in selling you something.

Selecting healthy fish

The fish in a shop won't be at their best, they will have been unfed in order to travel, they are in bare over stocked tanks and subjected to regular disturbance, all of which means they will look a little stressed. This shouldn't be confused with being ill or having a disease. There are lots of other things to look for when choosing good fish. If you see obvious signs of illness such as ulcers, open wounds, fish swimming oddly then avoid all the fish in that tank. Some diseases are easy to treat, others can wipe out an entire tank, don't take the risk. You will see other fish of that type which are healthy.

Some ideal first fish

Congo tetra, Phenacogrammus interruptus
Congo Tetra

Rummynose tetra, Hemigrammus bleheri
Rummy-nose Tetra

Glowlight tetra, Hemigrammus erythrozonus
Glowlight Tetra

Neon tetra, Paracheirodon innesi
Neon Tetra

Peppered catfish, Corydoras paleatus
Corydoras Catfish

Zebra danio, Danio rerio
Zebra Danio

White cloud mountain minnow, Tanichthys albonubes
White Cloud Mountain Minnow

Harlequin, Trigonostigma heteromorpha

Guppy, Poecilia reticulata

Swordtail fish, Xiphophorus helleri

Three spot gourami, Trichopodus  trichopterus

Krib, Pelvicachromis pulcher