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Fish Keeping Beginners Guide

There are many reasons to get a pet fish and take care of it at home. Keeping fish in a tank or garden pond can be therapeutic and fishkeeping is an easy starter hobby.

The information in this section explains the basics of fish keeping for beginners, with extra tips for troubleshooting problems with glass aquariums and community fish tanks.

Is it Easy to Start Fishkeeping for a Hobby?

For the most part, anyone who enjoys scuba diving and snorkeling will also like fish keeping.

Plus, you don't need a lot of spare time, or space, to keep fish as pets.

So, is fishkeeping easy?

It doesn't need to be a big commitment. But, it's best to research the basics before you start taking care of fish at home.

The first step is deciding where to keep them. Buying an aquarium is part of the fun - and a pet fish tank doesn't need to be expensive.

Like most hobbies and pastimes, it's easier to set up a simple home aquarium when you follow the basics. In most cases, setting up a beautiful reef tank is going to be a focal point that the whole family can enjoy.

Keeping Fish is an Uplifting Hobby

The most common reason to become a fish keeper (known as an aquarist) is to watch colourful fishes swim around various aquarium accessories placed inside the tank.

In fact, taking care of aquatic animals, including some funny marine invertebrates, can be a mood booster. Several minutes of fish watching can make you feel calmer, happier, and it can improve your stress levels.


Here's a scientific explanation. Several physical changes occur when humans relax with pets. It happens no matter whether they are stroking it, as in a dog or a cat, or watching its natural behaviour, such as a goldfish or colourful tropical fishes.

So, fishkeeping is good for mental health because two significant responses occur in the body. The level of a stress hormone (called cortisol) lowers and the level of the feel-good chemical (called serotonin) rises.

Pro Tip: Another help guide explains how the joy of fish keeping for children can be entertaining, educational, and a good lesson for the responsibilities needed to take care of animals.

How Do You Start Keeping Fish?

In the same way that dogs and cats come in many different sizes, shapes, and colours, so do pet fishes. In fact, choosing the wrong type of fish for a starter tank is a common mistake made by beginners.

So, after setting up an aquarium, you will need to choose some fish and a few decorations. In other words, doing some research will help you find the best fit for your particular lifestyle.

Keep in mind...

When choosing the best fish tank design for your chosen location, it's good to make it a family decision. In fact, getting the kids involved in fish keeping can be a good learning exercise. Plus, they can help you clean the tank if they're old enough.

Before you go out and buy some fish from a local supplier, remember to fill the aquarium with water. It is best to let the pH level (potential of hydrogen) settle for at least twenty four (24) hours before introducing any aquatic animals to a new home.

Aquariums: Bigger is Better

As a beginner fish owner, it may surprise you to learn that it's actually easier to take care of fish when you can house them in large aquaria.

The reason for this is because you can better maintain the 'balance' of the environment within. Thus, most aquarium stockists will recommend starting off with a medium sized 75 litre tank (20 gallons).

Key takeaways:

Unless you already have fishkeeping experience, it's best to avoid buying a tall thin fish tank. Instead, long and short tanks tend to provide more space for swimming and the equipment. Plus, there will be a greater surface area for the all-important air exchange.

Most enthusiastic fishkeeping aquarists prefer glass aquariums. Even so, there are several advantages with acrylic tanks. So for example, small goldfish bowls or rectangular acrylic containers are:

  • Generally considered as being 'unbreakable'.
  • Going to weigh less.
  • Safer for families (e.g. fish keeping with children).
  • Less expensive to set up.

Pro Tip: If you're using acrylic fish tanks, make sure there is adequate support for the complete bottom surface - as well as the edges.

Aquarium Covers

Most reputable fish tank suppliers will sell a lid or top cover as separate items. Even so, you can get lid and light combination units (called 'hoods'). Either way, the cover has several important functions:

  • A lid helps to stop 'lively' fish (such as gobies fishes) from jumping out of the aquarium.
  • It helps to stop unwanted objects from falling into the water.
  • The best-fitting hoods help to reduce water evaporation and they protect the light from excessive wetness.

The lid and light combinations tend to be made from plastic. So, they tend to be cheaper, lightweight, and durable. Whereas, glass fish tank lids usually fit better, retain more heat, and are easier to clean.

Best Home Aquariums

If you want to start keeping fish you're going to need a strong transparent container that will hold a lot of water.

Check out our help guide that contains a review of the best starter fish tanks and why certain styles and sizes are better than others.

Choosing the Best Location

The best place to put a fish tank at home will vary depending on how much space you have. But, it's one of the most important factors to consider when you start keeping fish.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid putting an aquarium in high traffic areas. So, put it against a wall where it can't get damaged. In addition, picking a spot out of direct sunlight and away from heating appliances is best.

Fish Tank Stand Design

You are going to need something strong to stand your fish tank on, such as a sturdy wooden furniture item or a purpose-built metal frame.

Keep in mind that large glass aquariums are very heavy when they are full with water. For example, a 20-gallon tank will weigh around 225 pounds (102 kilograms).

Important: Failing to use an appropriate aquarium stand (as recommended by the manufacturers) could make any relevant warranties void.

Fish Tank Equipment List

Keeping a solitary pet fish in a small spherical fishbowl is unlikely to require much care or time. Yet, setting up a large marine aquarium made of thick glass is going to be a challenging project.

This handy and comprehensive checklist of all the essential components of an aquarium will set you on the right path.

A Filtration System

All fishkeepers, especially those working in the pisciculture industry, understand the importance of having an efficient filter system. This crucial piece of equipment helps to keep the water clean enough to nurture healthy fish and plants.

There are many different styles available online. But, one of the best is a power filter that encompasses a bio wheel system.

In any case, you should get a filtration system that is appropriate for the internal volume of your container.

For example:

The best fish tank filtration system will be one with a high enough flow rate to filter all the water four (4) times each hour. So, if your container holds twenty (20) gallons of water the filter should have a flow rate of at least eighty (80) gallons per hour (GPH).

Aquarium Heaters

Because most fishes are cold-blooded, excluding opah moonfish, they are unable to produce their own body heat. As a result, you may need to install an aquarium heater to regulate the temperature of the water.

Fish Keeping for Beginners: How to Take Care of Fish as a Pet?Furthermore, different fish species have individualised optimum temperature ranges - especially when they start breeding.

In general, setting a water temperature around 24° Celsius (74 - 77° Fahrenheit) should keep your fish happy and healthy.

Here's the thing:

All modern aquarium heaters have a red and green indicator light. So, you'll be able to see when it starts to heat up the water (e.g. glowing red).

Even so, choosing the correct heater for a fish tank is important to avoid problems with under heating. In most cases, a simple hang-on-the-tank device should meet your needs.

You can also buy submersible aquarium heaters, many of which will have a numerical setting. They usually cost a little extra, but they tend to work better in large setups.

If it is a big project (40+ gallons), you may be better off getting two small heaters. If so, put one at each end of the aquarium for better heat distribution.

Pro Tip: Using a calculation of five (5) watts per gallon works well for small size tanks (3 watts per gallon for big projects). Even so, the normal temperature of the room will affect the wattage required.

Temperature Control

If you are going to start keeping freshwater tropical fish, the recommended water temperature (average) is around 26° Celsius (78° Fahrenheit). Hence, you will need a thermometer as a visual reference.

You can use one of the inexpensive liquid crystal stick-on thermometers or one that sits in the water. Even so, the submersible thermometers tend to work better for aquarists who are keeping delicate fish or want their pets to start breeding.

Fish Tank Lighting

For the most part, the light will be part of the actual lid assembly. But, you might prefer to buy the light as a separate item. If so, some of the best aquarium light bulbs are:

  • Fluorescent
  • Halogen
  • Incandescent
  • Light Emitting Diode (LED)
  • Mercury vapour
  • Metal halide

A fluorescent light is usually ideal for a fish keeping beginner. It should cost less to run and it won't get too hot to touch. Whichever light you choose, you should plan to have it shining in the water for at least eight (8) hours a day.

Air Pumps for Fish Tanks

Learning how to take care of fish as a pet is fun. But, there are many aspects to fish keeping, depending on how ambitious you are.

For example, once you get started and things are going well, you may want to enrich the water. A silent air pump for an aquarium is going to boost the oxygen content and it's a handy device for powering air stones (e.g. aquarium bubblers).

Aquarium Fish Nets

Some fishkeeping beginners will need to practice the art of catching fish before they feel comfortable about the process. Nonetheless, you want to have a few good medium-sized fishnets on hand in case you damage one.

Pro Tip: Make sure the fishnet handle is long enough to reach the bottom of the aquarium to avoid putting your hand in the water.

Substrate (Gravel)

Adding some natural features will help to keep your fish happy and make your aquarium look beautiful. So, having some gravel in the bottom provides an environment for fish to swim around and "good" bacteria to break down fish waste.

Most experienced fishkeepers use a fine substrate material to create a dark-coloured thick bed of gravel for the base. Remember to clean the substrate with water before you add it to the tank.

Accessories for Fish Tanks

This beginners guide for becoming a successful fishkeeper also has some expert tips for using accessories to create a beautiful aquarium. For example:

  • Plants should look natural, even if you are going to use artificial plants for decoration. In other words, try to use different sizes and colours to create a stunning backdrop (and hideaway places for fish to shelter).
  • Use one accessory to create a focal point that's dramatic and appealing to the eye. Typical examples include plate coral or a large white anemone.
  • Some fish species are more timid than others. If you start keeping shy or nervous fish they will need somewhere to hide. Try to make small caves or tunnels using different kinds of accessories to help them escape from any aggressive species.

Artificial plants (made of plastic) will need very little maintenance. However, there are several advantages to having real plants in an aquarium.

Some of the best aquarium plants, such as dwarf rotala, can help with the delicate balancing of nutrients and certain biochemicals. But remember, at some point you will need to trim live plants and you may need to add some additional fertilisers to the soil.

Adding the Water

Of course, you need to fill the aquarium with clean water to make it a healthy place for fish to live in. Even though you can use tap water in most cases, you may need to use a Dechlorinator for extra detoxification (e.g. DrTim's Aquatics AquaCleanse).

Choosing the Right Fish

Many years ago, fish keeping for beginners meant you started off keeping a single pet goldfish in a round, glass bowl. It was an inexpensive fish hobby and an easy introduction into fishkeeping.

Yet, even a lonely goldfish is going to need taking care of, such as giving it food twice a day, clean water, and a light source.

This is the important part:

If you're setting up an aquarium for the first time, you need to understand that different fish species do not interact well with one another.

In fact, having different traits and behavioural patterns is one of the "joys" of keeping fish. Nonetheless, it's best to learn about the differences between community fish and aggressive fish.

A local fish retailer will have more tips and advice about which fish species mix well together. But, here is a basic starter list to learn about:

  • Cichlids (e.g. Angelfish, Discus)
  • Goldfish
  • Mollies tropical fish
  • Platy fish
  • Siamese fighting fish (betta fish)
  • Swordtails

Having set up a beautiful aquarium, make sure you introduce healthy and non aggressive fish if you decide to add more species. But, don't make it too crowded!

As time progresses, you'll become more comfortable with routine aquarium maintenance and exactly how to take care of a pet fish. In fact, owning a fish is one of the simplest hobbies that brings joy to all animal lovers.

Common Issues with Aquarium Fish

The Federation of British Aquatic Societies (FBAS) estimates that over-feeding and water fouling kill more fish than any other action.

This help guide contains tips and advice for troubleshooting the most common issues with fish kept in an aquarium or an outdoor pond.

Fishkeeping FAQs

What is the Meaning of Fishkeeping?

The term fishkeeping refers to a popular hobby for aquarists (people who manage aquariums). Sometimes called fish fanciers, fish owners keep various kinds of fish species in a home aquarium or pond - mostly for enjoyment.

Tip: Ichthyophile (plural ichthyophiles) refers to someone, a hobbyist, who loves keeping fish or a group of fish, known as a school or shoal.

Where is the World's Largest Fish Tank?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest aquarium in the world is at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom - a theme park in Zhuhai, China. The enclosures contain close to thirteen (13) million gallons of water.

What is the History of Fish Keeping?

In fact, the origins of fishkeeping go back thousands of years. At the time, people kept fish in pools and in small ponds as a food source. In more recent years, they started valuing the tamed species as pets, rather than something to eat.

Related Information and Help Guides

Pro Tip: The short tutorial video [8:43 seconds] presented by 'Aquarium Co-Op' lists ten recommended aquarium fish to keep in your first tank if you're going to start keeping fish as 'low maintenance' pets.

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