Aquatic Life Farm, LLC

where we only sell tropical fish we raise

Keeping Fish Tips

Take Your Best Fish to a Show
And Show Your Fish at Their Best

by Frank Cowherd

One really good reason to go to a fish show is to see fully grown fish in good health with great color and glorious finnage.  This is where you can learn what a good quality fish should look like for almost any given species.  Fish sold in most pet stores are young and often do not have the great colors and finnage of their adult forms.  If you have been in the hobby for very long, you too probably have some great looking fish.  Have you thought of taking your fish to a fish show? 

Silver Angel
Figure 1: Silver Angelfish

Spotted Blue-eyed Rainbow
Figure 2: Spotted Blue-eyed Rainbowfish

You have probably been to a fish show and realized you have fish at home that are as good or better.  You've thought, "I should have entered one of mine".  There are lots of reasons to bring your fish to the show: you have good fish; you want to show off a favorite fish; your fish is bigger; more colorful; or just different in some way.  Yet, you hesitate to bring your fish to the show because you might loose the fish in transit or at the show.  I've taken fish to many shows and have taken as many as twenty fish to a single show.  I still have a perfect record of survival, to and from the shows.  So, read on.  I'll tell you how I do it.

Checking Your Water

First, the most likely reason you would loose fish at the show is that your water quality is different than the fresh clean water you are going to put them in at the show.  One way to see how bad your tanks are is to fill a couple of drinking glasses with water.  Fill one from your tank, and fill the other with water from the tap.  Compared to the tap water, the more yellow the tank water, the worse it is.  The yellow color in your tank water is indicative of the amount of accumulated waste products (pollution) as well as the mineral or salt content.

If you are not changing water routinely at home, you are likely to have trouble after transferring your fish to the very clean water at a fish show.  This is because the fish are accustomed to their dirty, environmentally challenged water, and the change to really fresh water will stress them, or kill them if the change is drastic.  If you have been neglecting water changes for a considerable amount of time, start about 3 months prior to the show and do 10 % water changes each week for a month, then increase to 20 or 30 % water changes per week and continue until show time.  It is actually a bit better to go to 40 or 50 % water changes for the last couple of weeks.  Just be sure to do the changes with water within 5 degrees of the tank temperature and treated to remove any chlorine or chloramines.  The goal is to make the change from their tank water to the water at the show be little or no difference to the fish.  In special cases where you know the fish requires special conditions, you must bring enough water or additives with you to fill the show tank. 

Catching Fish

Some people refuse to take their fish to the show saying "I can't catch them." or "I'd destroy the tank trying to catch them." Well, I'll admit I have been there with my planted tank.  I use to refuse to catch my clown loaches.  But, loaches are easy to catch with the right equipment, and this equipment can work for other fish that also like to hide.  In the wild clown loaches are caught in bamboo sticks that have a hole drilled into the side and are then stuck in the bottom of the river or creek.  A day or two later you simply pull out the bamboo stick and shake the fish out into the holding tank in the boat.  In the aquarium you just lay the trap on the surface of the gravel and a side hole is not needed.  I use white PVC pipe with an end cap.  The black PVC pipe floats. Choose a pipe that is a bit larger than the fish.  I use a 1.5 inch-diameter pipe that is about 10 inches long.  [See picture of clown loach in PVC pipe in a planted aquarium.] Put it in the tank a week or so prior to when you want to catch the fish, so he will get use to it.  Most likely he will go hide in it whenever he is not searching for food.  Place the pipe so you can see the entrance.  Then when you want to catch him, put your hand or a net over the entrance, remove the pipe from the tank and empty into a net or a bucket.  This works well for plecos also.

Another way to catch hard to catch fish is to use an extra large net, like a 12" by 12". But do not chase them; make them come to you.  If you place the net in slowly to start with you will have more success.  Put the net about 3 inches under the water surface and close to where you would normally feed the fish.  Hold the net as still as possible.  And instead of feeding as much as normal just feed a small amount.  Some will swim into the net to feed.  They will encourage others to swim in.  Add more food when it's all gone.  Only raise the net when the one you want swims in.  Then use a smaller net to get the one you want out of the large net.  Again, go slow with the net.  This is a perfect project for more than one person.

If you have a rock filled aquarium, like a rift lake cichlid tank, there is nothing to do except to take out the rocks.  But if you want to try it, there is a clear plastic box trap with a clear plastic door that revolves on its middle.  The clear plastic becomes almost invisible underwater.  When a fish swims into it, you turn the door by pulling a clear monofilament line to closed and then grab the handle to take the trap out.  This is a rather big trap (9' X 9" X 4") and is sold as a "Fish Corral.  The door is on one of the 4" ends; so the opening is 2 inches wide when open.  [See picture of Corral in use.]  Food can be placed in the trap to encourage fish to enter.  An airline tube inserted into the trap can be used to transfer brine shrimp or other live food in water to the back of the trap once it is in place.

There is one other strategy that works with hard to catch fish.  In the dark fish become lethargic, well maybe they are just asleep with their eyes open.  So after an hour or so of dark, get out a small flashlight, or preferably a more diffuse light like moonlight.  Use the light to identify the fish you want to catch and in slow motion move a net around it and take it out.  In a goldfish or koi pond this strategy works well in the middle of a moonless night, though it is not much fun if you fall in.  In a densely planted aquarium a little gentle probing in the plants with a hand or a stick will force the fish you want up to the front of the aquarium.  Again go slow; don’t wake the fish.

One other note, if you also use a net that is black or red or dark green to catch fish at night, the fish are even less likely to see it.  If you use a standard white net and the flashlight shines on it, the fish are more likely to be spooked.

Transporting to Show

So, now that you have caught your fish, transportation to the show seems like the next step, but it does not have to be.  If you want to get serious about showing your fish, you can condition your fish for showing.  Actually I do not personally know anyone who does this, well, except for one cichlid nut.  If you think about show conditions: a bare tank on black plastic, you can see this could be stressful to your fish.  So, why not set up a tank like this at home and put the fish in it for a few days prior to the show?  This gives them a chance to get used to these conditions.  Even if you don’t want to do this all the time you might want to do the set up to figure out which fish need this kind of acclamation versus any fish that loves to strut its stuff.  Remember to add an air stone, and do not feed too heavily, or feed only live foods, and if any cloudiness appears, do a water change.  The main reason to do this is that one of the judging parameters is deportment.  A conditioned fish is less likely to hide in the corner.  Judges love a fish that appears to own the tank.

One other consideration pertains to your fish's health during the show.  Some fish like goldfish and koi produce a lot of waste.  With these types of fish it is best not to feed for at least three days prior to the show.  That way there is a lot less waste produced in the show tank and with no filter, only an air stone, the water quality is better for a longer time.  High levels of pollution in the show tank quickly show up as red veins in the fish's fins.  It is best to move these types of fish to a clean bare tank for the three days prior to a show since in a pond or tank they will continue to eat algae and plants if not fed their normal foods.

So now we get to talk about transporting the fish to the show.  Bags are an option, but I avoid bags.  Bags have corners that can trap or injure the fish.  And bags can leak.  And if the bag is upright, it has a low surface area to depth, which lowers the oxygen level in the water.  I prefer and recommend five-gallon buckets.  But any size ice-cooler is just as good.  Just do not use much water.  The more shallow the water is the more oxygen the fish will get and the more water circulation is cause by the fish moving.  All you need is enough water for the fish to swim upright, plus a little margin, maybe an inch more.  So your bucket will be less than one quarter full and is easy to handle.  In a five-gallon bucket this amounts to about a gallon of water.  The fish will survive in this set up for at least a couple of days as long as they are not subjected to too high or too low a temperature.  I put them on the floor in the back seat of the car and make sure the buckets cannot tip over.

Five-gallon buckets are available for a few dollars from most hardware stores.  Clean as you would for a new tank and rinse it well with tap water.  Then fill it with water from the aquarium to a depth as described above.  Then add your fish.  I put as many as 8 show fish in one bucket.  I make sure that the ones in the same bucket are compatible, and if I want to help keep then calm, I add a few pieces of hornwort or other bunch plant.  Actually, I almost always add a few plants so the fish can hide in them and feel more comfortable and stay away from each other.

Setting Up at the Show

When you get to the show, all the show tanks will be filled with the same water already treated to remove chlorine and or chloramine.  So, all the fish you brought in the bucket can be acclimated together at the same time.  Bring a siphon or a quart container and transfer enough water from one of the tanks you are assigned to double the amount of water in the bucket.  Wait fifteen minutes.  Add enough water to the bucket to again double the volume of water in the bucket.  Wait another 10 minutes.  The fish are now acclimated to the water in the show tanks.  Net each one out of the bucket, and place them in their respective show tanks.  If you have fish with delicate fins, you should not use a net.  Instead use a kitchen pint or quart plastic measuring container with a handle.  Scoop out the fish and transfer to the show tank without ever taking the fish out of the water.

Thus, with a couple of buckets, one in each hand for balance, you can easily bring a bunch of fish to the show.  Like one large aggressive cichlid in one bucket and mollies, guppies, platys, gouramis, rasboras, and corydoras in the other, or, a couple of large angelfish or other large fish in one and large goldfish in the other.  OK, you get the idea. There are endless potential possibilities that expand with the number of buckets or coolers.

You can usually store your buckets, nets, and siphon plus any other equipment for the trip under the tables or shelving used for the show.  Just be sure to use a magic marker and put your name on the bucket so it can be readily identified.  Storing them there assures they are ready when it is time to take the fish home.

ENJOY the Show

I love to see all the different types of fish that are being shown, particularly since those shown are in their prime.  If you bring some, even the most common, you are helping to promote the hobby by showing strong healthy fish, and if your fish wins an award, all the better.

Once you have seen all of the different fishes on display, be glad you are not one of the judges.  That is a tough job.  On the other hand, judging has its rewards too.  [You judge which is the better angelfish pictured below.]

Returning Home

After the show is over siphon a few inches of water into the bucket or cooler, net or scoop the fish and place them in the bucket.  Remember that with only a few inches of water the fish will have the most oxygen, but because of the small amount of water, the temperature of the water can change quickly.  So take care to prevent the bucket from standing in a very cold or very hot place for very long.  You might even take the precaution of getting the car's heater or air conditioning in operation prior to placing the fish in the car.

When you get home, do not forget to acclimate the fish in the bucket to their individual tanks.  Use the same method as described above.

Now you can plan for the next show, and it does not have to be the one held by your local club.  There are shows within driving distance all year long.  Most club or society web sites make mention of those that are close by, be it a club in the next city over or a national organization holding a national or regional meeting near by, such as the American Cichlid Association.  Using the bucket method with plants you can safely transport fish for trips even days away without worry about the fish running out of air.  Just be sure to keep them warm, not cold or hot.  If you are comfortable in the car or hotel room without a sweater or without changing to a bathing suit, the fish will be fine.  So, check out your monthly fish magazines or go on line to find a “local” show and register for it.  I hope to see you at the next show with a bucket of fish.

May 23, 2009

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