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Starting a PA Native Tank (66Long) - Help!

5 replies to this topic

#1 LarryODonnell

  • NANFA Guest
  • Pennsylvania

Posted 12 August 2018 - 12:04 AM

Hello all,

I uncovered this forum (and organization) after googling for some help and ideas on how to get started on my native fish journey. I guess you could say I am a tropical tank refugee here, haha.

It has been about 16 months after I started my journey as a fishkeeper. My 30 gallon tropical community tank is running flawlessly and Im ready to upgrade.

Its always been a dream of mine to have a native North American stream tank (sunnies, minnows, crayfish, maybe a small trout or perch). I talked to the local fish and game commission and straightened out the regulation questions that I had and recently acquired an ancient home-made tank on Craigslist ($50 with stand!). Its a ~66gallon long (72x18x12) and I want to get started turning it into a flowing stream tank.

My overall goal is to have a few small semi-aquatic banks, plants, driftwood, slate... get some good currents moving, then fill it with creatures from my local waterways (Philadelphia PA Region).

Unfortunately, I have no idea where to start! Does anyone have experience with building this sort of tank, if so what tips can you share? What kind of hardware am I looking at (jets, canister filters, chillers, bubblers)? What kind of plants work best in cooler temperatures? Im at a loss. Any must-dos or must-donts for beginners? How should I get started?

This promises to be an entirely different animal than my tetra tank but I am excited non-the-less.

Thank you all in advance for your help!

#2 Michael Wolfe

Michael Wolfe
  • Board of Directors
  • North Georgia, Oconee River Drainage

Posted 12 August 2018 - 07:05 AM

First I will say, that you have come to the right place and welcome!  Yes, you can do this.  It is a fairly common idea that people have executed (building a little piece of a stream habitat).  And I want to commend you on thinking of your local stream.  Hyper-local native fish keeping is one of my personal favorites.  I think you can learn so much my actually being in the habitat with the fish before bringing them home.


You have a great tank size/shape there to get started.  All you really need is sufficient filtration (just like any other fish tank) and then a way to generate the flow that looks good to you (powerheads do the work pretty well).  And really you don't need as much flow as you might think.  Most of our native fish live in the flow, but that is because it is shallow and there are not big predators there, and because it is oxygenated and full of food.  If you don't introduce big predators, feed them, and keep the water oxygenated, they will be happy with much less flow than in nature.  But having some flow does make the tank look nice and bring to mind the creek/stream (but that is more for the viewer than the fish).  Some here may want to recommend a "manifold system" but I will let them explain it as I have never executed one myself.


I don't like crayfish in a minnow tank and would recommend against them for your first try.  They can get pretty hungry and walk around at night and eat sleeping fish.  Skip them for now.


Get a Peterson's Field Guide and it can help you identify a lot of the fishes in your local stream.  Get out there and seine em up!  See if you can identify them, maybe take a picture, and throw em back in the stream.  This should be part of your process... get familiar with the fish in the stream before you bring anything home.  Plus it is fun to get out in the water.


I'm not familiar with your fish up there (will be helpful to some if you can be more specific about your location, like maybe what watershed you are in?) but I'm sure you will find some fish that are adaptable to tank life (there are some that are not, but many that do very well and thrive).

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. - Benjamin Franklin

#3 LarryODonnell

  • NANFA Guest
  • Pennsylvania

Posted 12 August 2018 - 11:37 AM

Thanks for the tips.  I live in the Upper Delaware River Basin of Pennsylvania, specifically the Lehigh Watershed (02040106).  The largest local creek in my area is The Saucon Creek where I fish and hike.  That's where I would like to start my gathering I believe.


Thanks again!



#4 Michael Wolfe

Michael Wolfe
  • Board of Directors
  • North Georgia, Oconee River Drainage

Posted 12 August 2018 - 12:32 PM

Fish map can help you too then... there is a link just on the top of the forum page... this is the fishes in your watershed




You got Cyprinella and several Notropis in that mix.. could have a nice tank with just those to start with...

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. - Benjamin Franklin

#5 Matt DeLaVega

Matt DeLaVega
  • Forum Staff
  • Ohio

Posted 12 August 2018 - 02:54 PM

Great project. Use the search function. There are several stream tank builds and river manifold builds. Once you see who is doing what, reach out to individuals. People here love to help out and share knowledge. You took the biggest step already, and that was familiarizing yourself with local laws. Now it is all fun. Welcome.

The member formerly known as Skipjack

#6 Fleendar the Magnificent

Fleendar the Magnificent
  • NANFA Member
  • Ohio

Posted 29 October 2018 - 06:14 PM

Late in on the topic, but I use native water from where the fish came from for my 29 gallon tank. Our tap water is death on fish even once dechlorinated and cycled. So I use native water. Yeah, it takes more effort, but the fish seem happier and healthier in it.

As for how it's set up, only the plants are plastic, the large rocks and branches are from the river. I hand selected them and carefully scrubbed each one with a new tooth brush and picked all parasites off of each rock by hand before placing them in my tank. The gravel substrate I used is natural creek stone I bought at an aquarium shop.


Setting it up was not too hard, just deciding on stone placement and cover for the darters, crayfish and madtom I have. Seems like the fish are happy. They're very active, they interact with my when it's feeding time, and I haven't had any issues with jumpers. The fish that I have in my tank are: 11 banded darters, 3 rainbow darters, 1 fantail darter, 3 blacknosed dace, 1 shiner of some kind, 1 stonecat madtom catfish, 2 young green sunfish and 4 rusty crayfish. The tank's at it's limit for fish, but the water parameters are healthy and steady with ammonia/nitrites at 0 PPM and low nitrates.


Good luck with your tank! The fun part is filling it! My 11 year old daughter and I caught all of our critters together at the river. Good bonding time!

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