Musings of a Fish Addict

by Nancy Johnson

I have good addictions, and bad ones. The prize for the worst definitely goes to smoking. Bad, bad, bad, bad. My kids give me constant grief. My husband has given up. I don’t smoke in the house, which would be bad for the kids, and of course, the fish.

Fish, now there’s a "good new, bad news" addiction. Fish are good the soul, for the intellect, for keeping the humidity up in the house during the dry season.

Fish are definitely bad for the pocketbook, can be a sore spot in the marriage contract, and consistently keep me from completing fascinating tasks such as laundry and vacuuming. When you have a 125 gallon, a 110 gallon, and six-to-eight smaller grow-out tanks, the Brownie troop, the PTA newsletter-everything suffers. Except me, of course, and the fish. They get two 30 percent to 50 percent water changes a week. The kids were okay last time I checked.

But, certainly the best thing about a fish addiction is the great people you meet with the same affliction. I have started attending the monthly PVAS meetings, and boy are they great. You think you get great deals at the big auctions? Well, you haven’t seen deals until you go to a monthly meeting with its mini-auction.

Are your stressed fishes leaping steadily from your overstuffed tanks? Bring a bag of them to a monthly meeting! Do you want fish that aren’t available in any pet store anywhere? Bring your checkbook!

Be sure you have overdraft protection. It’s saved my bacon many times at fish auctions. Even at the mini-auctions I really go overboard. As soon as the bidding starts, everyone else in the room raises their eyebrows and looks at me. It gets a little embarrassing.

So, tell the family you’re having a night out then very quickly slip out the back door. Check out the next PVAS meeting… you never know what you’ll find!

Pet shop report Another place I meet some great folks is at the pet shops. My two favorites are Wally’s Aquarium in Annandale, Va., and Tropical Fish World in Gaithersburg.

Wally’s is closer to me. His prices are reasonable, and Wally himself is nearly always there. His prize employee is Steve, a friendly, tall, good-looking youngster who has waist-length blonde hair and a fairly good grasp of most fish-keeping issues. I hope he sticks around a while.

The only problem with Wally’s is that he rarely has any unusual freshwater fish. I think he would be interested in buying some rarer varieties if you have had luck in breeding them, but you might have to schmooze a bit with him first. He won’t take my blue acaras or spirulum. It’d be neat to see some fish there spawned by friends in the hobby.

Wally does have the best cardinal tetras I have found. They actually live, for a long time. He says the fish available from local wholesalers are not high quality. He ships them in from Florida. He also keeps his brine shrimp in "fresh" water from his saltwater system. They seem healthier than the ones kept in stinky brine tanks in other stores.

Tropical Fish World in Gaithersburg is a completely different, truly amazing store. They buy lots of fish from PVAS breeders. He charges a lot for them. But he’ll also give you a very nice store credit for juveniles you bring to him. Wait until they are at least an inch long, though.

I brought him my last batch of blue acaras and spilurum (topaz or blue-eyed Central American cichlids) and he gave me $60 store credit. That bought me a pair of apistos. These guys are young, enthusiastic, and have black lights in their store. Very cool. You should see their rainbow-fish tank-those fish are the largest I’ve ever seen, and brilliantly colored.

The guys at Tropical Fish World told me they wouldn’t buy guppies any more because they are so sickly. He’s right. I bought a guppy from Petco one day and it immediately died, and in the process killed all my healthy guppies I had bought at an auction. All my quarantine tanks were, of course, already full. I had no idea pet-store guppies were such a problem. I was impressed with his commitment to quality.

My tip for getting the most out of a fish shop is to go there when they aren’t busy. Being a stay-at-home Mom, I can go during the weekdays. Often I’m the only one in the shop. It’s a good time to chat and pick their brains.

Weekends are probably the worst time to visit a pet shop. Weeknights are iffy. So, go ahead and take a day off just to shoot the breeze at your local pet shop. You can take a sick day - after all, you are an addict.

Magazines - new and old

I had one primary goal in writing this article - to toot my horn a bit. The May issue of Freshwater and Marine Aquarium (FAMA) includes an idea I submitted to "For What It’s Worth." It’s on page 204. I got a year’s free subscription. When I went to Wally’s to show it to him, I expected a free tank or something. I got a great deal on two bags of brine shrimp, after I begged.

I love FAMA. I love it so much that I spent about $100 buying old issues in big lots on eBay. I have nearly the entire 1990s, and a good bit of the late ’80s. I still haven’t shelled out $23 for FAMA’s index; after all, I try to be thrifty.

I also have quite a few old issues of Tropical Fish Hobbyist (TFH). Much of the information in their old issues dismayed me quite a bit. Their "Mail Bag" column would typically have several questions of the "I have 35 fish in a 10-gallon aquarium and am having problems" sort. They NEVER said, "you’re an idiot." It’s rather colored my opinion of Herbert Axelrod, the publisher-hey doc, do you read your own magazine?

But the current issues of TFH are really quite good. It’s a much prettier magazine than FAMA, and seems to focus a little more on freshwater fish. At one PVAS meeting they were handing out freebies of several recent issues.

A few great deals I’ve found

Get a very accurate electronic pH pen for less than $50 at In The Swim’s web site ( They sell pool supplies. I’ve had mine for over a year and love it. You can buy the battery at Radio Shack. They also sell ORP monitors. Right now the pH meter is $39.99 (item A7920), the ORP is $99.99 (item A7925) and a combination of the two is $124.98 (item A7930).

I also got from In The Swim a huge tub of sodium bisulfate, which I use for acidifying my water. About a teaspoon in 30 gallons takes my pH from 7.8 to 6.5. I also use it in the laundry.

I just bought a custom-made tank stand from a guy I found on eBay. It’s 40 x 12 to fit two 10-gallon tanks on each shelf, with a center brace on each shelf so I can place smaller tanks on it. Made of nice-looking pine, cost me $48, plus $5 for several layers of clear coat, $15 shipping. He shipped it unassembled, and included the hardware. I had it in three days - from Michigan. He made it the day I ordered it and sent me photos before he shipped. To get your own, e-mail Randy Rykman at

You can see some of Randy’s tanks on eBay (use the e-mail address to find him). He tells me he was an Angel breeder in Florida and started making his own stands. Fish store dealers saw them and wanted some of their own, and now he makes them for stores.

"I just wanted something to do in the winter months here in Michigan because I am in the floor-covering business the rest of the year," Randy told me. "I’m having such a good response I might have just found what I have been looking for to get me out of the carpet business. Thanks for your warm concerns ... "

Another guy on eBay sells cases of little round sponges that were originally for some sort of pond filter. $10 a case, I think there’s 36 sponges per case. Slice them down the middle and slip them over your intake. Great for extra biofiltration or saving baby fish. Look for or e-mail

Happy fishing, bargain hunters!!!!

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 32, # 2

2018 Events

January 6: Jeremy Basch “Auchenipteridae – The Wonderful Woodcatfish”

February 3: Devon Graham “On the Origin of Species, or why are there so many fish in the Amazon?”

March 10: Panel Discussion -- Jim Chitty Frank Cowherd, Don Kinyon, and Dave Sombach “Successful Fish Breeding”, moderated by  Patchin Curtis

April 8 (Sunday): Spring All-Day Auction

May 5: Gary Lange “Cruising Papua - Following New Roads and Exploring the 'Bird’s Head'”

June 2: Larry Jinks “Building My Fish Room”

July 7: Bowl Show

August 4: Workshop: Christine Keys and TBD “Drilling and Repairing Glass Tanks”

September 1: Barbie Fiorentino Spawning Loricariidae

October 4-6: All-Aquarium Catfish Convention

October 7 (Sunday): Fall All-Day Auction at Hyatt Regency Dulles

November 3: Andrew Blumhagen “Why Bristlenose Plecos Have Bristles” and Annual Meeting, Elections, Workshop

December 1: Holiday Party