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Freshwater Fish Aquarium Care Tips For Beginners

Owning a freshwater aquarium can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it requires commitment and knowledge to ensure the health and well-being of your aquatic pets. For beginners, setting up and maintaining an aquarium can seem like a daunting task, with a multitude of factors to consider, such as tank size, filtration, substrate, and fish species.

But fear not! The hobby of keeping fish is very rewarding – despite the initial start-up confusion. Let’s break down some aquarium tips for beginners to help smooth out your process.

aquarium tips for beginners

Aquarium Care For Beginners –  Freshwater Fish

Over this last year, my husband and I have learned quite a few things about caring for freshwater fish. So, I wanted to write a post dedicated to any potential parent who is considering making the purchase. If you are interested in buying freshwater fish and want to avoid beginner mistakes, there are a few things to know about owning a home aquarium:

Freshwater fish have babies

We started our 65-gallon tank with only ten fish. I think you are able to get one fish per gallon (or something like that) according to “the rules.” We intentionally left them a lot of room to roam to swim. But over this last year, TWO of our freshwater fish had babies. LOTS of babies.

The first lot was eaten by another fish which made my children CRY. The second lot somehow survived, and now I have double the amount of fish I started out with! Fish keeping is an adventure.The new fish make for a great addition, but they were unexpected. Consider this when purchasing your freshwater tank. Size up. 

Tank Size Directly Impacts Cost

I bought my tank on a Black Friday deal for under $100. It was an amazing bargain. However, I didn’t take into account how much more it would be to decorate and maintain. Think about all the extra bags of rocks I had to purchase alone. In the end, we spent closer to $600 getting our tank ready for our beautiful fish. 

The Products You Need To Set Up Your Aquarium

To set up a freshwater fish tank, you will need several products, including:

  1. Aquarium tank: This is the main container where you will keep your fish.
  2. Aquarium filter: A filter is essential to keep the water clean and healthy for your fish. It helps to remove harmful chemicals and toxins from the water.
  3. Heater: Most freshwater fish require a specific temperature range to thrive, so you will need a heater to maintain a consistent water temperature.
  4. Thermometer: A thermometer will help you monitor the water temperature and make sure it stays within the appropriate range for your fish.
  5. Lighting: Depending on the type of fish and plants you have, you may need a lighting system to provide the appropriate amount of light for your tank.
  6. Substrate: A substrate is the material at the bottom of your tank that provides a base for your plants and a place for your fish to swim.
  7. Decorations: Plants, rocks, and other decorations can create a more natural environment for your fish and make the tank more visually appealing.
  8. Water conditioner: Before adding water to your tank, you should treat it with a water conditioner to remove any harmful chemicals, such as chlorine, that can be found in tap water.
  9. Test kits: Regular water testing is necessary to maintain good water quality in your tank. Test kits can help you monitor important parameters such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
  10. Fish food: Different types of fish have different dietary needs, so you will need to choose the appropriate food for the fish you plan to keep.
  11. Nets: Nets are useful for catching fish and removing debris from the tank.
  12. Gravel vacuum: A gravel vacuum can help you clean the substrate and remove any uneaten food or waste from the bottom of the tank.

These are some of the essential products you will need to set up a freshwater fish tank. However, you may also need additional equipment depending on the specific needs of your fish and plants.

fish tank

Light Sources For An Aquarium

As a rule of thumb, lighting is very important in maintaining a healthy and thriving aquarium. It provides the necessary light for photosynthesis in plants and helps regulate fish behavior and health. Here are some different kinds of light sources for an aquarium:

  1. Fluorescent Lighting: Fluorescent lighting is a common and affordable option for aquariums. It provides a cool, white light that is suitable for most freshwater fish and plants. It also comes in different sizes and wattages to fit a range of aquarium sizes.
  2. LED Lighting: LED lighting is becoming increasingly popular for aquariums, as it is energy-efficient, long-lasting, and produces less heat than other types of lighting. It also offers a range of color options, allowing you to customize the lighting to suit your specific needs.
  3. Metal Halide Lighting: Metal halide lighting provides a bright, intense light that is ideal for larger aquariums and reef tanks. It can support the growth of more demanding corals and invertebrates and can create a more natural-looking environment for your fish.
  4. Incandescent Lighting: Incandescent lighting is not recommended for aquariums, as it produces too much heat and can quickly raise the temperature of the water, leading to stress and even death of fish.
  5. Natural Sunlight: Some aquarium enthusiasts prefer to use natural sunlight to light their aquariums, as it can provide a more natural and dynamic lighting environment. However, this can be difficult to regulate and may require additional measures, such as shade or curtains, to prevent excessive heat and algae growth.

When choosing a light source for your aquarium, consider the specific needs and requirements of the fish and plants in your tank, as well as your own personal preferences and budget. It is also important to monitor and adjust the lighting as needed to maintain a healthy and balanced environment for your aquatic pets.

Types Of Fish To Consider

Some common freshwater fish species:

  1. Angelfish (Ctenops nobilis) : A beautiful large-sized fish with a lifespan of 15 years. They require larger tanks and are known for being territorial towards other angelfish species unless alloted enough space – they can grow up to 10 inches in size.
  2. Discus fish (Symphysodon) : a beautiful species of cichlids that needs to live in groups and should be provided with proper setup for breeding – this is one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fishes as they are easy to care for and very colorful, but also might not fit well into smaller setups due to their large size (they can reach up to 8 inches). Discus fish are known for being aggressive towards other fishes when grown larger.
  3. Betta fish (Betta splendens) or Siamese Fighting Fish : a beautiful tropical fresh water species that has long tail shaped like an arrow, it’s male counterpart is called “farmer fish” as it’s used to fight with other male betta fish. These aggressive one-inch-long fresh water species live in shallow pots or separate tanks, but can be kept together if kept small enough – after reaching 2 inches long male betta might start killing the female one (they are 100% monogamous).
  4. Swordtail Fish (Xiphophorus hellerii) : a pretty tropical freshwater fish that has a unique sword-shaped tail fin and is very popular among aquatic life hobbyists due to their exceptional behavior of swimming on the surface of the water and jumping out from time to time – they’re easy-to-keep species that grow up to 6 inches in size and require larger tanks.
  5. Platy Fish (Xiphophorus maculatus) : a popular freshwater aquarium fish that enjoys company of other platy fishes and can live in small groups – it’s known for being hardy and long-living species, but also might nip at plants when grown larger, just like any other similar tropical fish species. They’re easy to care for and are available in a wide range of colors.
  6. Goldfish or Carassius auratus : A kind of carp native to rivers running from China through Korea and Japan best known as ornamental freshwater aquarium fish having been selectively bred into countless varieties of colors – they’re available today in many color variations: red, blue, yellow, white ones with black stripes and more. Long-living species that can grow up to 10 inches in size, they’re usually kept either alone or in small groups (max 4 goldfish per 1 gallon of water) – remember not to mix coldwater fishes with tropical ones.
  7. Guppy or Poecilia reticulata : a popular fresh water aquarium fish species that comes in many color varieties – red, yellow, orange-blue etc… it’s often regarded as a “feeder fish” for larger freshwater aquatic life forms, but this doesn’t mean they should be considered less important than other species – after all guppies are very prolific and easy to breed! Happy mating behavior is achieved under conditions approximating their native habitat: brackish water or tepid fresh water. They can grow up to 2 inches in size and live 5 years.
  8. The tetra (Paracheirodon innesi): a popular fresh water fish that can survive any conditions except for extreme cold ones – they’re usually sold in group boxes, but often fight between themselves ( some species ) so it’s better if you keep them alone or with very similar-looking tetra species . They come in beautiful colors like red, white, black, yellow and green. This is a hardy breed of tropical fresh-water fishes known for their bright colors and friendly mannerism towards tank mates – it’s an easy-to-keep species that can live up to 5 years.
  9. The molly (Poecilia sphenops): another popular tropical fresh water fish that’s great for beginners – it has a long lifespan of up to 15 years and can grow up to 5 inches in size, eating small crustaceans or insects. It comes in many colors: red, yellow, blue etc… as well as other beautiful varieties like Dalmatian molly (lilac spots on black background), butterfly molly (yellow with orange polkadots) and more.

Talk to a representative about picking out community fish for your tank. While exotic fish species are nice to look at, their fish behavior is more important in the long run. Different fish act differently together.

Use A Reputable Pet Store

Always choose a reputable pet shop or aquatic life hobbyist to work with when filling your first aquarium. They will help you decide whether you need small tanks, 20-gallon tanks, or much larger aquariums.  

As I mentioned, I returned several fish when building out my new tank. I was so happy I went to PetCo because they took them back. I didn’t want to just kill the fish! 

Choosing Live Plants Vs. Fake Plants For Your Aquarium

Freshwater fish can thrive in aquariums with both live and plastic plants, but they may have a preference for one or the other depending on their species and natural habitat.

Live plants offer a more natural and diverse environment for fish, as they provide oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and help to maintain good water quality. They also offer a place for fish to hide, rest and explore, and can reduce stress in the tank. Additionally, live plants can create a more aesthetically pleasing and natural-looking aquarium.

On the other hand, plastic plants are a low-maintenance alternative to live plants. They are durable, easy to clean, and can be shaped and arranged to create a specific look or theme in the aquarium. However, they do not offer the same benefits as live plants, and some fish may not find them as appealing or stimulating.

Ultimately, the choice between live and plastic plants will depend on personal preference, the specific needs and preferences of the fish species you have in your tank, and your level of commitment to maintaining a live plant environment. Live plants may require more care and attention but can provide a more natural and healthy environment for your fish.

Vacations As An Aquarium Owner

If you have a dog or a cat, you can send them over to Grandma’s house while you are away. However, what do you do with a 65-gallon freshwater fish tank? You need someone to come to your house every day while you are away. And typically, my husband and I go away for about 7-10 days.

That is really putting someone OUT for a long time. You better have a great payback in mind. Think wine, chocolate, lotto tickets – SOMETHING! It’s annoying, and my cousin probably HATES me because she has her own things to do. But the fish will die if you don’t feed them! You have to figure this out.

The Kids Eventually Stop Caring

I know. You probably think that your children are 100% invested in these future freshwater fish, right? They look SO EXCITED RIGHT NOW. It ends after three days. Make no mistake. The only person who will continue to care about the fish will be YOU, and it will mostly revolve around the fact that you HAVE TO in order to justify the expense.


Cleaning The Tank Is Endless

 If you purchase a small tank for your freshwater fish, you might be ok with this chore, but we have 65-GALLON tank and this is an absolute nightmare. I’m just being honest. A good idea is to place your fish tank near the sink. So, it is easier to transfer the liquid.  

An easy way to manage this is to hire a service that will come and maintain the water conditions for you. In fact, this is an excellent choice! Look into it. It doesn’t matter what kind of mechanical filtration you have. You will still need to get your hands dirty… I mean wet… every few days to ensure the aquarium water quality is up to par. 

Freshwater Fish Require Levels Testing: 

Testing the levels of your freshwater fish tank is an essential part of keeping your fish healthy and happy. Here are the steps to follow when testing the levels:

  1. Purchase a freshwater fish tank test kit that includes tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and hardness levels.
  2. Fill a clean container with a water sample from your fish tank. Make sure to avoid any water from the surface or bottom of the tank, as this can skew the results.
  3. Perform the tests according to the instructions provided in the test kit. Each test will require a different amount of water and testing solution, so be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
  4. Record the results of each test on a log sheet or in a notebook.
  5. Interpret the results of each test according to the acceptable ranges for each parameter. The acceptable ranges may vary depending on the type of fish and plants you have in your tank.
  6. Take action to correct any levels that are outside of the acceptable range. For example, if the ammonia or nitrite levels are high, you may need to perform a partial water change or reduce the amount of fish food you are giving your fish.
  7. Test the levels again after taking corrective action to ensure that the levels have improved.
  8. Repeat the testing process on a regular basis, at least once a week, to ensure that the levels remain within the acceptable range and to catch any problems before they become serious.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your freshwater fish tank stays healthy and provides a safe and comfortable environment for your fish to thrive.

General Tips For Owning A Freshwater Fish Tank

Maintaining a freshwater fish tank requires regular attention and care to ensure the health and happiness of your fish. Here are some tips for keeping your tank in top condition:

  1. Establish a regular maintenance schedule: Set up a regular schedule for cleaning the tank, testing the water, and performing water changes. Consistency is key to maintaining good water quality and keeping your fish healthy.
  2. Keep the water clean: Regular water changes are essential to maintain good water quality. The frequency and amount of water changes will depend on the size of your tank and the number of fish you have. As a general rule, aim to change 10-20% of the water in your tank every 1-2 weeks.
  3. Monitor water parameters: Test the water regularly to ensure that the levels of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and hardness are within acceptable ranges for your fish. Take action if any of these levels are outside of the acceptable range.
  4. Avoid overfeeding: Overfeeding can lead to excess waste and poor water quality. Feed your fish only what they can eat in a few minutes, once or twice a day.
  5. Keep the tank clean: Regularly remove any uneaten food, debris, or dead plants from the tank to maintain a clean environment for your fish.
  6. Maintain the filter: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintaining your filter. A clogged or dirty filter can reduce its effectiveness in removing toxins and chemicals from the water.
  7. Monitor the temperature: Use a thermometer to monitor the water temperature and adjust the heater as needed to maintain a consistent temperature for your fish.
  8. Avoid overcrowding: Overcrowding can lead to stress, aggression, and poor water quality. Research the specific needs and requirements of each fish species and ensure that they are compatible with each other in terms of size and temperament.
  9. Quarantine new fish: Introducing new fish to your tank can introduce diseases and parasites. Quarantine new fish in a separate tank for at least two weeks before adding them to your main tank.
  10. Enjoy your fish: Finally, take the time to enjoy your fish and the beautiful environment you have created for them. A freshwater fish tank can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby, and taking good care of your fish will ensure that they thrive in their new home.

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