How I got started in the fish keeping hobby isn’t quite the way a lot of people might expect. You see, I had no interest in keeping fish. Nope, not at all.
I grew up with animals. We always had a cat and a dog. At one point I had a hamster and later a tarantula. We had a cockatiel and a canary (at different times) and a fish tank.
The cat and dog were a constant, the other things were around for brief periods of time. The fish tank was 15 gallon and on a metal stand. After I moved out of the house, I lived in an apartment where pets were not allowed.
This was a problem because I was used to having animals around. Finally one day in sheer desperation I asked if fish were okay. They said yes because they weren’t considered pets. So I got the fish tank and stand from my parents (it had been out of commission for a long time at this point) and went about setting it up. Thankfully, it still held water and the stand was a bit rusty, but still sturdy.
Now I knew only a couple of things about fish at this point because I really hadn’t paid a lot of attention when my parents had them. I knew that I had to put stuff in the water to get rid of the chlorine. I knew I had to float the fish in it’s bag for a half hour or so to let the temperature adjust. I knew that to feed them, I put in a pinch of food a day, just like Mr. Rogers did on ‘Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood’.
Yessir, I was practically an expert (ahem).
I bought some Neons because they were colorful, around 10 or so and dumped them unceremoniously into the tank and that was that. And after adjusting to the shock…they sat there. Smack dab in the middle of the tank, and keeping fish instead of a cat or dog was exactly like I thought it’d be…really dull.
Eventually it began to dawn on me that I was overfeeding them. I couldn’t resist giving them a big pinch of food because those little pinches seemed too skimpy and I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t change my ways.
Off to the pet store I went. I walked in, looked at the algae eaters and said to myself, “I don’t have an algae problem”. So I asked the guy working there about bottom feeders and he took me straight to…you guessed it, the algae eaters.
After patiently explaining that the problem was NOT algae and I need a bottom feeder to eat up the excess food so it wouldn’t foul the tank, a bright light went on and he took me to the perfect fish…the Corydoris.
I had never heard of this little catfish before and it looked pretty weird. It was flat on the bottom and kind of a round elongated top, the kind of shape you see when a 3rd grader is drawing a whale. The guy at the pet store assured me that it was docile towards other fish and would happily eat the food that fell to the gravel.
So I adjusted him to the tank using my highly sophisticated methods (it’s a miracle any of the fish survived) and sooner or later there he was with his little nose twitching as he used his whiskers to find all that food I dropped. It was great, I didn’t even have to change the amount I was feeding them…actually I probably should have gotten two corydoris…..
But this is what turned me into an enthusiast: One day I was looking into the fish tank watching the neons cluster with the corydoris sitting motionless on the bottom and then the most amazing thing happened.
That cory cat came straight up off the bottom of the tank just like a helicopter. He went zooming, and I mean zooming, all over the tank right through the middle of those neons sending them scattering everywhere.
Then he came to a dead stop a few inches above the bottom, floated down and lay there still as stone. Eventually the neons regrouped in the middle of the tank and all was as if it never happened.
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed and I was beginning to think I had imagined it. About twenty minutes later that cory cat once again came straight up off the bottom of the tank and went zooming all over the tank again, going right through the middle of those neons sending them scattering everywhere, came to a dead stop a few inches above the bottom, floated down and lay there still as stone.
It was at this point I learned that some fish have a personality. From that point on, I was hooked (every pun intended). I had a few more episodes with keeping a freshwater tank, maybe next time I’ll tell you how I got into the saltwater end.