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Brand new, want to make sure I'm doing it right


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#1 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 05 December 2020 - 04:48 AM

Hi everybody, I'm basically brand new to keeping fish. I had a few goldfish when I was maybe 5 years old in a large bowl, but my dad took care of them. We also used to have a nurse shark, but when it died my dad cleaned out the tank and chopped it up to use as an enclosure for a rabbit. Since then I have not had any fish. It's been about 13 years since the nurse shark died.

This forum has provided a lot of useful tips, but I just want to make sure I'm doing it right. I'd like to start with a sunfish as opposed to smaller fish like minnows because sunfish I think are much hardier and more forgiving of beginner mistakes.

The tank will sit on my desk, I can fit a tank between 20-30 gallons on it. My plan is to catch a single small, between 2-4" size bluegill or green sunfish with hook and line out of my local lake, and raise it in the tank. The lake is manmade, with no creek outlet or anything of the sort. The bottom is all rock as well as concrete chunks collapsed from the walkway, as far as I know. Some weeds do grow, but not anywhere near shore to make them easy to collect.

I'm thinking I can put down gravel, with maybe a few small rocks taken from the lake added in. I'd like to add a plant or two as well but I am not sure what is in this lake, or if that even matters. I'm in Northern Illinois. Any help with native plants would be appreciated.

Once the tank is built and the sunfish is in, my intended diet for it is meal/waxworms or small bits of nightcrawler while it is small, then as it grows giving it larger nightcrawlers, crickets, and pellets. If it gets big enough I may even give it the occasional minnow.

Is this a good plan? Is there anything I'm missing or anything I must know as a complete newbie?

#2 Jconte

Jconte
  • NANFA Member
  • Quincy Illinois

Posted 05 December 2020 - 09:03 AM

Welcome to the wonderful world of keeping native fish! There’s a lot to unpack in your opening statement and I would suggest that you do some further research and planning before adding your first fish to your tank. Of paramount concern is the type(s) of treatment that you will employ to keep the aquarium healthy. Poor/inadequate treatment will lead to disease and an aquarium that is difficult to keep clean. As far as your choice of fish, sunfish are great although personally I would suggest Pumpkinseeds over Bluegill or Greens. Not that the latter don’t have their own appeal, I just think that Pumpkinseeds are more attractive and better tankmates if you choose to add other species. That being said, sunfish live relatively long lives and you are committing to providing him a comfortable home for many years. My suggestion is to start with shiners. They are easy to collect, adapt rapidly to aquarium life, eat just about any food that they can swallow, some species have great color in breeding season, are active swimmers that provide constant interest and they only live 2-3 summers. Red, Redfin and Spotfin Shiners are wonderful in an aquarium when kept in groups. Southern Redbelly Dace and Blacknose Dace are equally good in the aquarium and should be available in your locale. Good luck and feel free to post updates on your adventure!

#3 Jconte

Jconte
  • NANFA Member
  • Quincy Illinois

Posted 05 December 2020 - 09:10 AM

I forgot to add an encouragement to join NANFA. Despite what my avatar says, I have been a member for many years. With your membership comes the always interesting American Currents periodical, which is by itself worth the price of membership. You will also be contributing to research and advocacy for native species that is sorely needed.

#4 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 05 December 2020 - 10:33 AM

Welcome to the wonderful world of keeping native fish! Theres a lot to unpack in your opening statement and I would suggest that you do some further research and planning before adding your first fish to your tank. Of paramount concern is the type(s) of treatment that you will employ to keep the aquarium healthy. Poor/inadequate treatment will lead to disease and an aquarium that is difficult to keep clean. As far as your choice of fish, sunfish are great although personally I would suggest Pumpkinseeds over Bluegill or Greens. Not that the latter dont have their own appeal, I just think that Pumpkinseeds are more attractive and better tankmates if you choose to add other species. That being said, sunfish live relatively long lives and you are committing to providing him a comfortable home for many years. My suggestion is to start with shiners. They are easy to collect, adapt rapidly to aquarium life, eat just about any food that they can swallow, some species have great color in breeding season, are active swimmers that provide constant interest and they only live 2-3 summers. Red, Redfin and Spotfin Shiners are wonderful in an aquarium when kept in groups. Southern Redbelly Dace and Blacknose Dace are equally good in the aquarium and should be available in your locale. Good luck and feel free to post updates on your adventure!


I'd like to keep fish who live around my area and acquire them naturally rather than ship them from across the country, and most waters ban the use of any nets except landing nets and stressful cast nets so finding minnows would be difficult. I'll consider pumpkinseed, but I'm not certain there are any in this lake. Sunfish have always piqued my interest since I was a kid. A local bait shop had a pet bluegill for some 7 years, and this is something I am committed to.

I'm not planning to do the tank until next spring, so I have plenty of time to do more research on how to keep the tank treated and safe, and I definitely will do more research. Thank you!

#5 Jconte

Jconte
  • NANFA Member
  • Quincy Illinois

Posted 05 December 2020 - 10:47 AM

In Illinois, you can collect “minnows” with dip nets, seines and minnow traps. Check IDNR for specific regulations. All of the species that I mentioned can be collected in Chicagoland collar counties. I would suggest that you get a copy of “The Fishes of Illinois” by Philip W. Smith if you want to learn about species distribution, preferred environments, diet, etc.

#6 swampfish

swampfish
  • NANFA Member

Posted 05 December 2020 - 12:36 PM

I have kept green sunfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and other sunfish in aquaria over the years. Although I agree with Jconte that the pumpkinseed is a great fish for an aquarium in your area, green sunfish become real characters, being every bit as friendly and engaging as oscars and other large cichlids. 

 

Shiners and sunfish will take prepared fish foods very well. Your plans to use live foods are great, but realize that they are not necessary. i have used TetraMin for decades to feed most of my native fish, and other flake or granular foods sold for tropical fish work just as well. 

 

Since you have a limited background in aquariums, you might want to read about setting them up in a book or online. You might want to join a local fish club even though with COVID-19 it may be a few months before meetings resume. Locate one online or ask about them at an independent fish store such as Aquarium Adventure in Hoffman Estates. When my wife and I lived in Lisle during the 1980's, we found a couple of native fishkeepers at Chicago Killifish Association meetings who taught us a lot even though both of us had kept fish since childhood.

 

Phil Nixon

Tolono, IL



#7 El Todd

El Todd
  • NANFA Member
  • Silver Spring Md

Posted 05 December 2020 - 01:34 PM

If you have not done so, I would visit the portion of the site that gives details about how to properly transport wild caught fish. Proper transportation will reduce fish loss. Others may disagree, but I believe adding salt to the bucket factors heavily into overall success. I think green sunfish would be a much better choice than bluegill - bluegill can get fairly big.



#8 Michael Wolfe

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

Posted 05 December 2020 - 10:00 PM

I forgot to add an encouragement to join NANFA. Despite what my avatar says, I have been a member for many years. With your membership comes the always interesting American Currents periodical, which is by itself worth the price of membership. You will also be contributing to research and advocacy for native species that is sorely needed.

 

Looks like you were listed as a member under another user name.  You are now both "jeffreyconte" and "Jconte" and you are recognized as a member under both.  It would probably make sense to combine these into one.  Contact me on the DM tool here and you can decide which name to keep and which one to smash into the keeper.


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

#9 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 06 December 2020 - 07:05 PM

Can't seem to figure out how to post pictures, but over the past couple of days I've developed a plan. I bought a 29gal tank. I have ensured that my desk can handle the weight of the filled tank easily. I plan to fill the bottom with fine river sand, small natural pond gravel, and then plant some elodea canadensis, which according to the IDNR is a native plant. I will have a sponge filter rated for 50gal running in the tank, just to give it an extra boost in getting out everything I don't want. In case of power failure I will have two battery-powered aerators standing by to install in the tank. I also plan to put in a large fake rock cave so the fish can hide once they've been added to the tank.

 

Once I have everything in, I plan to go through a long cycle process using the tetra flakes Aqueon provided with the tank plus any additional amount I may need that I can easily get from my local grocery store. I've read it can take up to two months to cycle the tank this way, but this gives me ample time before spring.

 

Once the tank is cycled, I will introduce a small 3-4" bluegill or green sunfish caught from my local lake, as well as a tadpole madtom from a local fish farm (they're a native fish but I'm not sure where to find them or catch them). In theory, the madtom will be there to help further keep the tank clean, and will basically do the job of a pleco while being a native fish and much smaller at that.

 

I acknowledge swampfish's advice regarding feeding, however one of my driving goals with this tank is to observe a sunfish as it might behave in its natural environment, so I want to give it foods it would naturally eat. I do realize, however, that if I am ever away and need someone else to care for them that giving flakes or pellets would be much easier. For this reason, I am thinking that perhaps one of their daily feedings should be flakes or pellets. This will get them used to it and they will easily be able to adjust to a full week of pellets, if the need arises.

 

When I have more space, I'd love to have a larger tank, but I think this is the best plan for what I have. Thoughts?


Edited by chicagofisher, 06 December 2020 - 07:38 PM.


#10 Michael Wolfe

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

Posted 06 December 2020 - 09:23 PM

Two points from your above post:

  • madtoms are nothing like plecos... madtoms are small micro predators and are not interested in keeping your tank clean... they will scavenge cause everything will scavenge... but those barbels are for hunting in the dark.
  • you cannot watch a sunfish exhibit any natural behavior... they are too smart / observant for that... in something less than a week they will figure out that you are "the food guy"... and the behavior you will see is something more akin to a puppy dog than a fish.  

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

#11 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 06 December 2020 - 10:28 PM

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Two points from your above post:

  • madtoms are nothing like plecos... madtoms are small micro predators and are not interested in keeping your tank clean... they will scavenge cause everything will scavenge... but those barbels are for hunting in the dark.
  • you cannot watch a sunfish exhibit any natural behavior... they are too smart / observant for that... in something less than a week they will figure out that you are "the food guy"... and the behavior you will see is something more akin to a puppy dog than a fish.  

That is my mistake regarding the madtom, many websites list it as an algae eater. I suppose the sunfish is probably just as good at eating algae when it wants to, and adding a second fish to the tank would mean more waste, less space, and possibly risk drawing out territorial aggression from the sunfish. I'll reconsider the madtom.

In regards to the natural behavior comment, that isn't really what I meant. I've just wanted to raise and observe a bluegill or some other sunfish for a long time. And I'd like to keep them on a more natural diet.

#12 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 07 December 2020 - 08:59 AM

Something that just occured to me. The lake I'm going to be taking my sunfish from is known as rather unclean. In the fall of 2019, it suffered a blue-green algae bloom and back in 2016 I tested the water with my Environmental Sciences class in high school and the water was...not in good shape.

Should I be testing the water of the lake as well, and how can I acclimate the sunfish to my cleaner water? Should I treat the fish for any wild diseases or parasites even if there are no external signs of it?

#13 swampfish

swampfish
  • NANFA Member

Posted 07 December 2020 - 10:16 AM

It is always amazing to me how healthy fish are even in putrid water. Don't assume that polluted water contains unhealthy fish. In general, almost all fish will be healthy that you collect. Generally, the only water parameters that severely shock a fish are pH, salinity, and temperature. Salinity is not a factor in two bodies of freshwater. A pH difference of more than a full point may require housing the fish in a 50/50 water mix for 2-3 days to allow the fish to adjust. Floating the fish containing bag for 15 minutes will allow the temperature to adjust if the difference is more than 5-10 degrees. If you fish is in a bucket, just set the bucket next to the aquarium for an hour or so to allow the temperature to adjust slowly.

 

I avoid collecting fish with many pinhead-sized black spots on them. I don't remember the name of the parasite, but attacked fish tend to be unhealthy and associated with exceptionally bad water conditions. Look for any whitish one-quarter to one-half inch threads hanging off the body, particularly near the base of the dorsal fin, these are a parasite called anchor worm. These can be easily seen from the side while the fish is in water in a bag or clear plastic viewing box. Avoid fish with white, fuzzy patches of fungus, with shredded fins, or fins with many tears. Fish that are very listless in a bucket of water may be unhealthy, but many healthy fish apparently go into shock when caught. Healthy fish in shock will typically act normal after 5 to 10 minutes. 

 

Phil Nixon



#14 El Todd

El Todd
  • NANFA Member
  • Silver Spring Md

Posted 07 December 2020 - 10:24 AM

I've seen pictures of fish completely covered with black spot disease and supposedly healthy - but I would still be leery of taking those for a home tank. I've had lots of fish with only a couple black spots on them that never had any issues. That's one of the nice thigs about raising your own fish, tank raised fish will never get black spot disease because the bird digestion part of their life cycle is not present in the home aquarium.



#15 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 10 December 2020 - 03:43 AM

One last question, how deep should my substrate be? I'd like a layer of sand for the elodea to root in, and a layer of gravel on top of it. But I know that sunfish love to mess around and rearrange the bottom and the plant roots as they please. I just want it deep enough that the fish won't expose the bottom of the tank, yet also allow a comfortable depth for it. The tank is 18" tall for reference.

#16 swampfish

swampfish
  • NANFA Member

Posted 10 December 2020 - 11:01 AM

Depth of substrate is entirely your choice in this case. Elodea typically does not root very strongly or very quickly, so a larger fish such as even a 3-4 inch sunfish is likely to dislodge occasional stems with its caudal fin, causing them to float to the surface. You will be probably be replanting stems daily if you are determined to root them. Stem plants, such as elodea, absorb nutrients from their leaves, apparently using their simple roots mainly as anchors.

 

When I want elodea or other stem plants to root, I wrap a lead plant anchor around the base of a bunch of several stems and let them sit on the gravel surface. Over the next few weeks, they will root into the substrate. By the way, what is sold as Elodea or Anacharis in most fish stores is usually Egeria, a similar tropical plant from South America listed as an exotic, invasive species in Illinois. It's fine to keep it but realize that it is not native and never put it into a body of water outdoors that has an outlet to other bodies of water. 

 

You'll need at least one inch of sand for rooting covered with enough gravel to keep the sand in place, probably about one-quarter inch. You may want 1/2 inch or more of gravel with sunfish. Deeper sand allows easier planting. Most aquarists growing plants will use about 2 inches of substrate depth. Others may have a better idea than I as I have never tried to grow plants in sand, using only gravel or topsoil in trays covered with gravel. 

 

An easily obtainable rooted native plant is Vallisneria americana, sold as jungle val in most pet stores. Other vallisneria sold in pet shops are usually Vallisneria species from Europe or the Orient. The dwarf sagittaria sold in fish stores is Sagittaria subulata native to the southern half of the U.S. including southern Illinois. In gravel it grows about 2 inches; in soil it grows 10-12 inches. 

 

Phil Nixon



#17 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 10 December 2020 - 11:41 AM

I made sure to get specifically elodea canadensis from a specialty aquaculture store. It is on its way now, however it won't arrive until next Wednesday when the high is only supposed to be 36F and I am concerned that may damage the plant. I think I'll do 1 inch of sand and 1 inch of gravel, just to be safe.

Illinois DNR told me taking live fish for an aquarium is illegal due to VHS and such, so I'm going to have to change my plans for that. There is a fish farm in Richmond, IL that sells sunfish which is only about an hour drive for me so I can do that I think. Otherwise I'm looking at shipping from Zimmerman's or Jonah's.

#18 chicagofisher

chicagofisher
  • NANFA Guest
  • North Chicago suburbs, IL

Posted 12 December 2020 - 11:04 PM

Okay, so I made a little bit of a change in plans. Instead of a green sunfish, I was looking at a species similar to the longear, the northern sunfish. These only grow to like 6" at maximum making it much more suitable for my tank size, but they still have large enough mouths when adults to eat worms and tiny minnows like mosquitofish. However, I cannot find a northern sunfish for sale anywhere. The Illinois DNR does not distinguish between it and longears, Zimmerman's does not have any, and Jonah's has longears but specifically mentions it is the larger species. Every fish farm/pond stocker company I can find only does bluegill, redear, and green sunfish. Does anybody know of any place at all I could get a northern longear sunfish?

#19 swampfish

swampfish
  • NANFA Member

Posted 14 December 2020 - 11:28 AM

The regulations on VHS in Illinois at https://www2.illinoi...ents/17-875.pdfdo not list northern sunfish or longear, but do prohibit removing "native water" from Illinois bodies of water, making the movement of live fish problematic. Of course, northern sunfish are the "longears" that are native to NE IL and are frequently caught by angling. 

 

Northern sunfish that I have kept in aquaria and seen in others' aquaria have been shy and retiring, more so than the longear. They are less colorful than longears but are very pretty in their own subdued way. I realize that you are trying to keep the tank native to your area, but you might want to consider dollar sunfish. They are similar in appearance to longears, stay smaller, and develop some personality with the aquarist. They are native to the southern US. 

 

Elodea canadensis as a species can easily handle temperatures down to freezing, but if the plants you're getting are from a milder climate, they may not be as cold hardy. Cold hardiness in many plants vary within their range.

 

Phil Nixon





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