My Aquariums

The following article was written just before I moved from Ohio to Texas in 2001. Before I moved, all the fish were released into the protected environment of a family friend's large private pond. I know they were able to live out their lives carefully attended in a beautiful habitat filled with food. Unfortunately, since then I have not been able to restart this hobby.

I like to keep aquariums with local natural species and habitats because they provide me a window into a world to which I can relate. While the rainforest may be a wonderful place, it is the local lakes and ponds that have intrigued me for my entire life. Keeping native fish is in some ways more difficult than tropical fish, but it is easier in others. The sheer size and appetite of the fish makes it difficult to maintain a stable ecosystem. On the other hand, the fish are generally very "tough" and can withstand much larger swings in pH, temperature, etc. than their tropic cousins. Native fish are more "wild" too, being quite intelligent while displaying more "natural" behavior. It's a lot of fun to have a fish that recognizes you and responds to what you do.   At the moment, the main denizens of my tanks are a largemouth bass, a pumpkinseed sunfish and a yellow bullhead catfish.
The pumpkinseed will eat out of my hand.   When the bass was smaller, it used to jump clear out of the water to grab a worm from my fingers.    The bass and I used to play a game of misdirection while I would try to feed worms to its smaller tank mates while it tried to intercept those meals.    I spend less time with the bass than I used to (it used to be with me in my office in the Physics dept.), so it has unfortunately reverted to a less interactive state.   The pumpkinseed and I still get along pretty well though.
I have two tanks, a 30 gallon tank that holds a largemouth bass and a 10 gallon tank that holds a pumpkinseed sunfish and a yellow bullhead catfish.   I use very high levels of aeration and filtering to handle the massive bioload that these large carnivorous fish produce.    The aquariums also have a fair number of Elodea plants in them to aid in filtration.   The tanks also have locally gathered snails as well and I try to introduce any insect nymphs that I can find.   A colony of planaria has established itself in the 30 gallon tank and are very helpful in eating any leftover dead feeder fish.   I often have crayfish as well for the same reason, but they have survival problems, particularly in the bass's tank, where they are considered "lunch".   I also use locally collected limestone and shale rocks in the tanks to produce as natural a habitat as possible.

The fish usually eat live minnows (emerald shiners) from a local bait store, but if those are not available, especially in the winter, I buy feeder goldfish at a pet store.   Besides being much less expensive, the minnows also swim faster than the goldfish and in so provide more of a challenge (and exercise) for my fish to catch them.  If I have the time and am lucky, I catch striped shiners and river chubs in a local creek to feed the bass.   The fish get fed about once every two weeks.   The fish won't touch the feeder fish if they are dead unless they are very hungry and I drop them in the water so they appear to move.   Then, if I am lucky, the bass or pumpkinseed will grab and swallow the dead feeder fish before they realize that it wasn't alive. 

I believe that all my fish are males because I have had them all for more than one year and they have never shown signs of carrying eggs.   When I have tried to introduce female, egg-laden fish, the extreme territorialness of the residents causes mortal levels of stress in the newcomers.  I have tried to get pairs of crayfish to mate, but they have never survived long enough to see any results.

The following pictures are not directly of my fish and other animals and plants, as I've never been able to take a decent picture of them (see the above pictures for instance).  Note that the pictures are not to scale either.

Largemouth Bass

This bass was originally caught as about a 5" fingerling in the Morgan St. reservoir in Oberlin in Oct. of 1996.   He is the longest surviving fish I've ever had and is now almost 14" long now.   He (I think) eats about a dozen minnows or feeder goldfish  a week.   He is capable of catching and swallowing 6 fish at a time.   He once ate his tank-mate, a 8" long yellow perch.  He is very smart; he can distinguish me from other people and even recognizes the bucket in which I carry his feeder fish.  He is also amazingly fast, catching his prey with stunning speed and accuracy.

More info on largemouth bass:

Pumpkinseed Sunfish

This pumpkinseed was originally caught in the Black River in Lorain in 1999.   I think that he (?) was mature fish already in that he has not really increased his 6" length since.  He eats about 3 minnows or feeder goldfish a week but will eat worms, insects or even sinking commercial pellet food.   Always hungry, the pumkinseed comes eagerly begging to the front of the tank when someone walks up.

More about pumpkinseed sunfish:

Yellow Bullhead catfish

The catfish was originally caught in the Parsons Rd. Reservoir in 1999.   He (?) was about 4"  long at the time and has grown to about 8" long.     He eats about 5 minnows or feeder goldfish per week.   Like most catfish, he doesn't like bright light and prefers to hide in the weeds or under the rocks if he can (he used to fit under them).   He feeds on the sleeping and unsuspecting feeder fish at night.   He will also eat worms and sinking pellet food. 

More about yellow bullhead catfish:

Emerald shiner

Emerald shiners are usually the minnows sold by the local bait shops that I use as feeder fish.  They are native to Lake Erie.  Most of these minnows live for about 1 minute after being placed in the bass's tank.   The lucky ones in the bass tank and most of the ones in the pumpkinseed and catfish's tank survive for less than a day.   A few will last a couple of days before they too become just tasty memories.   The addition of the biomass of  three dozen shiners at a shot to the the tanks and the large amounts of very toxic ammonia excreted by the understandably nervous shiners puts a massive strain on the tank's ecosystem and filtration system.   I really need larger tanks. ;-)    

More info on emerald shiners:

River Chub

These larger minnows are used as food for the bass. I catch them using my flyrod on Beaver Creek near the border of Amherst and Lorain.    The bass prefers these 3"-4" minnows and will ignore the emerald shiners and will eat one of these a day for as long as the supply holds out.    These very wild fish get understandably very nervous and skittish in the tank.

More info on river chubs:

Striped Shiner

These large minnows are also used as bass food and are caught along with the river chubs in Beaver Creek.  These minnows are about the same size as the river chubs, but have deeper bodies.   They get slightly larger too, growing up to 5"-6".   Being accustomed to predators such as the bass, these minnows often prove much more difficult to catch than the emerald shiners and the bass has numerous scrapes and scratches from running into the rocks, filters and powerheads in the tank.

More info on striped shiners:


The planaria are flatworms about 1/4"-1/2" long and are white (the picture is of a stained lab specimen) with black eye spots.   Planaria are nocturnal and come out from the gravel searching the tank for food only at night.   They quickly find and devour any freshly deceased feeder fish.   It turns out that they are very good indicators of the pH levels in the tank.   If the water is too acidic, say pH 6.5, the planaria will not appear at all. 

More about planaria:

(Northern?) Crayfish

I get crayfish either from the Parsons Road Reservoir, a friend's farm pond or from the bait store.  Unfortunately, I have trouble keeping crayfish alive--they seem to be fine and then one day they turn up either dead or missing (presumed eaten).   Molting in the bass's tank is a definite way of shortening one's life expectancy as a crayfish.   The bass will tear up the rocks to get at a freshly molted crayfish.   I am beginning to suspect excessive acidity in the demise of the other crayfish--I read that crayfish populations were very hard hit by acidification of ponds and lakes.   The crayfish are fun to watch because they are always fussing around digging their dens in the gravel under the rocks.   They are very handy for eating up dead feeder fish too.

More on crayfish:,

Great pond snail

I have two kinds of snails, one of which looks like the one on the left.   I'm not sure if they really are great pond snails or not.   The snails come from the little pond at the Equestrian Center in the Carlyle Reservation.   The pumpkinseed loves to eat this and other kinds of small snails, so their lifetime tends to be limited.   I have some larger round-shaped snails that live longer but seem to die on me anyway.   I'm not sure if there simply isn't enough algae in the tank to support them or if it is from other reasons. 

More info:,

Elodea plants

The elodea in my tanks was collected at local ponds, mostly at the Caley Wildlife Refuge.    It does best when I have the lights over the tank go on at regular intervals so they get enough regular light.   They have a hard life in the tanks because the fish and crayfish are forever digging and tearing them up.

More info:

Techno-babble about my tanks: 

I use Whisper brand filtration units on both tanks, the smaller uses a older single element Model 2 (given to me by Bill Mohler of the Physics department) and the larger tank uses a dual element Model 60.   Both have been upgraded to the "Triad" model level with the addition of bio-filters.   The filtration units use fiberglass filter bags filled with activated charcoal that I spike with granulated zeolite to help absorb ammonia.    The filters are rinsed off weekly and are changed every other month.    The smaller tank has two bubble wands for additional aeration and the larger tank uses an under-gravel filter powered by two 126 gal./hr. power heads set for maximum aeration.    The tanks are next to a window in the basement so they receive direct morning light but are in the shade otherwise.  The cooler temperatures in the basement are important as these fish are technically classified as "cold-water fishes" and thus the water temperature is kept no higher than the low 70's.    In the winter,  a heater is used to keep the water from getting too cold, but that is often not needed.   The fish can withstand lakes that freeze over in the winter (i.e. 34 degree water), so excessively low water temperatures is not a problem for them.    Water that is too cold does kill the plants however, so that why I don't let it get too cold.    The colder water has the additional benefit that it reduces the fishes' appetite at a time when good, inexpensive food is difficult to obtain.    I monitor the ammonia and pH levels often, especially after a feeding.   The ammonia levels can skyrocket after a large feeding.  The pH has a tendency to drop (become more acidic) as well.    Since, after treating for chlorine, the water from the tap is essentially the same as what the fish originally came from (Parsons Rd. Reservoir is Oberlin's water supply), the fish can easily withstand 75% water changes.   Such drastic changes are often needed to combat an out-of-control ammonia build-up. 

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