Let's talk about setting up a tank from scratch. Whether you are a veteran fish keeper or a first day beginner, you can always learn something new when it comes to this hobby. It's important to keep an open mind and take not only suggestions, but criticisms as well, as the advice they are intended to be. They are not a deliberate attack on your character. As a veteran fish keeper myself, I can honestly say I have learned more in the past year than I had in the previous 20 or so years. That's why, with my first article, I'm going to start off with something simple, yet, even though it's simple it can turn into problem that will keep you pulling your hair out for months¦ if not years.
When setting up a fish tank, it's easy to lose patience with the little things. It's easy to become excited with your new purchase, get in a hurry, and start taking short cuts. However, all aspects are important in the long run. Not only is it important to research the fish you plan to stock your tank with so that you know what type of substrate will fit your particular situation best, but you have to make sure you treat the substrate in the recommended manor PRIOR to placing it into the tank. Whether you are using large granular store-bought gravel or sand you picked up at Home Depot normally used for filling children's sand boxes, you must be sure to rinse it off thoroughly before it goes into your tank. This is a valuable lesson to learn by witnessing or hearing about it from someone else's mistake, rather than making it yourself.
Even though I have been in the fish keeping business for a long time, I still managed to fall victim to impatience when I purchased my first really big tank in the early months of 2007. For my substrate, I bought crushed flint. It was crushed so fine that it appeared to be sand. By the time I had purchased the sand, I had already filled my tank and added a few dithers to get the beneficial bacteria growing. I knew this was going to be an expensive journey, so I was buying things as they came on sale. This didn't mean I couldn't get the tank started on the cycling process though. My mistake came when I bought the substrate. Rather than first putting it in a bucket and running a hose through it for a while, I simply opened the bags and dumped it in. My thinking was that, over the course of time, with the many water changes required to keep the quality in check, I could get the debris out and make the water clear up to look as pristine as the other tanks in the house. I was wrong. Even though I was over filtrated, using an All-Glass model #4 sump (1400 gallons an hour) and a Marineland Emperor 400 (400 gallons an hour) and after nearly a year's worth of weekly 80% to 90% water changes, the water still had a “dusty” look to it. It was hard to see in pictures. It was hard to see when looking at the tank straight on. However, to look at it long ways, from end to end, it was not possible to see the fish swimming at the far side.
To say I was frustrated would have been an understatement. I tried clearing it up by buying even more filtration. My first attempt was a Fluval FX5, but even though I filled it with course mechanical sponges, it did not help with the water's clarity. My second attempt was a Marineland Magnum 350. That helped for a few days, but the micron cartage would get plugged so fast, that after day 3, the tank was back to it's cloudy, dusty self. It was not until I completely emptied the tank, took all the fish out, the rocks out, the plants out and finally the sand out and rinsed it properly, like I should have done in the first place, that the water's overall appearance got to where I wanted it to be. From this point forward, my rule of thumb is, rinse the substrate until you think it's good, then rinse it again just for good measure, and then... rinse it twice as long as you already have.