There are some basics, everybody should know. Things you will need or should at least consider in starting up a new tank!
Tank/hood/light (the larger you can start with the better!)
Filter (adequately or oversized for the tank you choose) – the best kinds will have three-part filtration: Mechanical (for catching floating stuff and sucking of foods/wastes), Chemical (carbon for removal of odors and organic compounds) and Biological (biofiltration should be seperate from mechanical – meaning there should be a filter pad and an additional sponge or biowheel for the biobugs)
Heater (for tropical tanks)
Substrates – there are lots of choices here, lighter colors tend wash out the fish’s colors, but can still be very pretty. Choose substrates that are inert – meaning they won’t alter water chemistry. Stay away from coral gravels, dolomite gravels, aragonite, and live sands and seashells. These are best suited to specific setup ups, like brackish, marine or african cichlids. The thickness of an unplanted tank, should be 1″ or less, for plants 2-4″ should suffice.
Book: The Manual of Fish Health, by Tetra Press. Great book! Lots of info to quench your thirst for knowledge!
Test Kits: In order of importance: PH (possibility of hydrogen), ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, GH (general hardness) and KH (carbonate hardness)
Knowledge of the Nitrogen Cycle and how it relates to fish tanks. There’s answers here, in the FAQ and all over the Internet. Read about it and understand, then read about Fishless Cycling.
Gravel vac or Python (appropriately sized for your tank and how far you’ll need to go to siphon outdoors if you want)
Buckets for water changes, if you choose not to get a python.
A broad use water conditioner that conditions for Chlorine, Chloramine, and heavy metals. Avoid ammonia reducing or detxifying agents.
Small quarantine tank w/ sponge filter (this can be a tank, or even a rubbermaid container that you’d store sweaters in!)
Foods appropriate for the fish you choose
Many of the above items will come in new tank kits. You can buy the tank/hood, filter, heater together with a sample pack of fish food, and the test kits will often come in multi packs, but you may have to pick up one or two seperate. Fish stores will test your water for you for free, usually – so take your time picking up your test kits – don’t go breaking the bank or anything.
Set up your tank, let it run for a few days while you scour the fish stores for the fish that you like. Make a list of the ones you like, come home and google (and post here if you want advice) to be sure the fish is suited to your PH, GH and tank size.
Planted Tank “Neon Jungle” © Plecosaurus If you’re planning a planted tank substrate should be layered, with a bottom layer of finer substrates first, like laterite, kitty litter, flourite mixed with a handful of peat moss works really well. Topped with a layer of gravel or larger sand wil make a great planting substrate. If you KNOW you want live plants, plan for this prior to setting up the tank…its kinda a pain to re-do everything once its setup and fish are in the tank.
Once you’ve started your tank, picked your fish and the water has settled, go buy yourself some fish! Remember…if you didn’t do fishless cycling, you’ll wanna take it slow, 2-3 fish to begin with (unless you have a really large setup) and let the tank cycle.
Remember to acclimate fish to your water…it may not match the stores water! To do this: float the bag of fish for 10 mins in the tank, unopened. Then open bag, and add 1/2 cup of your tank water and let them get used to it for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes add a cup of water, and repeat the 15 minute acclimation. Repeat with another cup of water. After 45 minutes to 1 hour, your fish should be ready for your tank (remember this time frame should be slightly shorter if you had to drive an hour home with your fish!). Net fish and place in tank. NEVER EVER add fish store water to your tank. It may contain diseases and illnesses that you don’t want!
Once the cycle is completed (0 ammonia, 0 nitrite and readable nitrates) you can add more (assuming more fit in your tank). Theres a large opinion on cycling methods…read about them all and choose for yourself. All new fish should be quarantined if you were able to pick up a small QT tank mentioned above…this will keep sickly fish store fish, from contaminating your tank.
Do not change any filter media while cycling. If you chose a filter with a sponge or biowheel, when the filter needs cleaning, just remove, rinse in tank water you removed after a water change and replace. Do not rinse anything else.
Avoid ammonia detoxifying agents Avoid PH adjusters, trust me…your PH is likely fine where it is as long as its between 6.0 and 9.0 Don’t mix tropicals and coldwater fish Always research fish before buying
#1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 are necessities. Oh, and the fish, of course… #3 – Heaters will depend on the type of fish you choose, and what the room temps in your house are consistently set at. #4 – some folks go bottomless with their tanks , no substrate at all – this is fine. #9 is your option – if you choose a long gravel vac, and the tank’s high enough, you can siphon water right out the window into your yard or flower bed or whatever. But you may need buckets to refill your tank afterwards.
Ask lots of questions!
Hope this has helped someobdy out there get started!!!! I know much of this info is likely in the all the FAQs here, but I find that not nearly enough folks navigate there and read them. Good luck.