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           The Misers guide to Native fish keeping
                         Robert Rice
A  lot  of  us  would  like to Native keep  fish.  We  enjoy
watching   and  learning  about our local species  but  just
don't  want to spend the kind of money the folks at the  pet
store  tell us we need to just for a basic tank.  I  have  a
solution, treat those fish the way they deserve. Treat those
fish the natural way. You can have an inexpensive attractive
tank  that  is not high maintenance. Contrary to  what  they
tell  you  a  power  filter on the back of  a  tank  is  not
necessarily  the  cleanest way to run a tank  on  a  budget.
Think  about  it how good for a tank can it be to  have  the
water  run through a sponge full of fish wastes all day?  So
follow  my step by step plan and you will have a clean  tank
the envy of the neighborhood.

First  off stop buying retail. If you really are on a budget
keep  you  eyes open for used tanks and lights at  a  garage
sale  or  the  local paper. I make it a rule to never  spend
more  than 1$ a gallon for used setups. A setup must include
a tank and lights. For tank stands I bridge the tank between
cinderblocks  covered  in sheets, curtains,  whatever  looks
nice.   Decorations  like  plastic  castles  or  half   used
chemicals  like pH up or down or whatever go  right  in  the
garbage They add nothing and usually are to high maintenance
to  bother with. The second thing to do is to decide weather
this is a tank for shiners and darters or a sunfish tank. If
it is a darter /shiner tank  you will need a powerhead and a
undergravel filter. The place to buy your undergravel filter
and  the  gravel  is  ,surprise, the chain  hardware  stores
(Lowes, Menards, Home Depot etc.) They have 50 pound bags of
river  pea  gravel in a variety of colors  for  about  2  -3
bucks. They intend it for landscaping purposes and to  spice
up  someone's cement patio. However with a scrubbing at  the
house  you  got  your gravel. They also sell  a  variety  of
plastic grids used for light covers and what not for about 1-
2  bucks. Take one of those cut it to fit and punch  a  hole
for  the  powerhead intake tube and you are in business.  Of
course  old  undergravel filters old powerheads are  usually
available  for a song at garage sales and what not  so  keep
you eyes peeled  If  it's a sunfish atorium all you need  is
a  gravel bed. Here's the trick you need a thick gravel  bed
I  like  about  6  inches  be it for  shiners,  darters,  or
sunfish.  This gravel bed performs a very important  purpose
and  without it you will have a high maintenance tank.  This
bed  provides   homes for the good guy bacteria  that  break
down fish wastes. So get that gravel going .

Next  step after you put 6 inches of gravel and the optional
powerhead   setup. It's time to get creative. First  off  go
ahead  fill up your tank and sadly we will have to say   you
might have to add one chemical . Nowadays you just cant  let
water  "age" like  the old days. The chemical complexity  of
chloramine  makes  water unsuitable for  fish  until  it  is
completly removed from the water. You could call your  water
company  and  find out if they use chloramine. Perhaps  they
just use chlorine. If so you can then avoid the chemicals by
letting  the  water age 72 hours. If not use something  that
removes,.  chloramine  your choice of  brands  but  make  it
inexpensive.  OK you have your garage sale tank  setting  on
those  charming  cinder  blocks. You  placed  it  away  from
windows  and heat vents. It's full of water and  gravel  and
looks  pretty good. Congratulations you are a third  if  the
way there.

OK  time  to take a look around and find a place to  collect
some  plants.  EEEK  you say collect plants  !  Yep  without
suitable  vegetation this whole mix will not  work  and  you
would  be  forced  to purchase (yuk) some more  higher  tech
equipment.  Find  some rooted plants that  are  tolerant  of
lower   light   and  grow  well.  In  the  Native   category
watersprite, cabomba, and giant val come to mind. In the non
Native  category  several types of swords and Java fern  fit
the  bill. You don't have to "collect" all of them borrow  a
few  from  another tank or from a friend. You  will  need  3
plants  per gallon ultimately. However for now 1 per  gallon
should get you started. Go ahead and plant them in the tank.
It's getting close to fish time.

Now  you  have waited a few days, set things up on a  budget
and  are  pretty proud of what you've got going on.  If  you
have the powerhead option turn it on. The lights should stay
on  at least 10 hours a day. Biology should start kicking in
and  things  are starting to cook. Find the healthiest  tank
you  can find and beg , borrow or steal a handful of gravel.
Take the gravel and put it in your tank. The old gravel will
"seed"  the tank. The good guy bacteria will have the inside
track on things. Now that you have done the above it is time
to  add fish. You can add fish but not many and not to fast.
Start with either 1 sunfish or 4 darter/shiners. That's it.

OK you got your tank, your plants and your fish and suddenly
your  tank gets cloudy, what's wrong ? Nothing, you  are  on
the  right  track. The cloud is caused by a bacteria  bloom.
The  seeded  bacteria has found a new home and has  gone  to
town. In a few days things will clear up . You have your few
fish, your few plants what next ? Stick by your guns and  do
NOT give in to your desire to feed the fishies three squares
a  day.  This  set up is dependent upon a more natural  food
schedule . Feed 2 times a week and that is it ! No more,  in
nature fish get a large meal once a week or so and spend the
rest of their time nibbling on plants and what not. Simulate
that  at  home. Besides who wants to pay for all that  extra
food  anyway ? If all is going well after 2 weeks it is time
to  ad  a few more fish. Remember how many you added  a  few
weeks  back  ?  Add the same amount this time  and  continue
every three weeks or so until you reach the 1 sunfish per  3
gallons or the 1 shiner/darter per gallon limit.

Now   comes   the   extremely  difficult,   time   consuming
maintenance of this setup. Twice a month use a gravel vacuum
and  remove  20%  of the water while vacuuming  1/2  of  the
gravel. A gravel vacuum for those who don't know is a siphon
with a big end and a small end .The big end gets pushed into
the  gravel  and  the little end goes into the  bucket.  The
gravel pulls up about halfway up the big end and then  falls
back  while  the dirt heads to the bucket. For a  20  gallon
tank  this will take about 10 minutes. Exhausting isn't  it?
At  some  point algae will build up on the tank. Go  to  the
grocery  store  pick  up  one of those  plastic  brillo  pad
looking  dish scrubbers and use it to wipe the glass  clean.
That's it your tank maintenance is done.

If  the  plants prosper and you don't get to crazy with  the
food and the fish you are home free. With a little luck your
natives  will thrive and perhaps even spawn. This  low  tech
setup  has served me well I have kept and bred a great  many
species  in them with little expense or problems. I hope  it
does  the same for you . Until next time good luck and  good