How to Start Your First Home Aquarium


I’ll tell you right now, that some purists who keep pet fish might feel what I am about to say is too simplistic, but I have been a “true believer” myself in the past and recognize the syndrome.

Of course, you will probably want to get some advice from people who already keep pet fish, but take what they tell you with a grain of salt…at least for now.

You see, people who REALLY DO know a lot about a subject, also often have acquired a lot of arcane knowledge and personal likes and dislikes on the way to the spot they are at. They also are acquainted with others like themselves, people with lots of knowledge on the subject and years of experience, and forget what happened the first time their new neon or tetra died because of their ignorance or negligence.

As you might expect, many people like yourself who are just beginning in the hobby of keeping pet fish, actually know very little about the subject. They don’t know what fish are the best to keep, they don’t know how to set up the aquarium, and they don’t know how much work can be involved!

Often, after they go through the expense, time and effort of setting up their first home aquarium, they begin to have some misgivings about pursuing the hobby, and once a few (often expensive) fish die, the aquarium winds up with a lot of other “projects” in the garage. Since some home aquarium setups can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, it’s a good idea to decide whether you really want to pursue this hobby or not before you lay out the big bucks.

One of the worst mistakes a person new to the hobby can make is to run out and buy a lot of expensive equipment and fish. Another major mistake is to listen to one of those experienced friends who says, “Don’t mess around with cheap Walmart fish. Go to XYZ Fish Emporium and buy_______ (fill in the blank with Angelfish or some other beautiful fish you can think of)”.

Many of these fish are expensive. Some have very specific needs. Your friend may have some really great equipment, but they may have acquired their equipment, and experience, over the years. XYZ Fish Emporium may also mark their stuff up pretty steeply.

Now, I do not often advise people to go to Walmart, but you might want to make your first step the purchase of a complete (small 5 gallon) aquarium kit from there. Yes, you could go to Petco, PetSmart or other such place as well. If you find that you really like keeping and taking care of pet fish, you can always upgrade equipment and move into caring for more expensive and sensitive fish once you have a little more experience and are sure that this is for you.

Remember what I said earlier about the cost of an aquarium being hundreds or even thousands of dollars? A simple starter aquarium kit from Walmart can cost about $50. If it doesn’t work out, you can sell it and get a few bucks back or donate it to Goodwill and get a tax deduction out of it.

You will also want to start with some low maintenance (and cheap) fish, but attractive ones, again, from Walmart or some such box store. Look at it this way. Many of those fish are in the fish version of hell, or at least purgatory, and taking a few such as Tetras or Neons home might be doing them a favor. True, Tetras and Neons are pretty commonplace as fish go, but they are also good to learn with.

What is there to learn about keeping pet fish?

Well, there’s conditioning the water, controlling algae, dealing with fish diseases, and making sure that fish with compatible personalities are in the tank and are not eating each other or chewing up fins.

What? Fish have personalities?

Yes, and that’s just one thing you may eventually have to become acquainted with as you pursue this hobby.

Start small, and grow slowly, stop when the next step begins to look like work and not fun, and you should enjoy keeping pet fish.