When I was a kid, some of the most fun I had was catching and raising salt-water fish in my aquarium. You’ve read many times about my happiness living in Florida. Easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and Florida’s terrific shorelines, including the reefs, is just another reason why it’s great to live here.
My sister and her best friend also had fish tanks. I had the wee tank, at ten gallons. My sister’s tank was, I think (we’re talking 40 years ago and I already told you about my memory in a recent post…or did I?), around 25 gallons (possibly 50). Her friend had the “monster” tank (it had to be at least 75 gallons).
The three of us would pile in the car and my Dad would drive us down to a variety of places. One, a little area just south of us called Bear Cut, was easy to get to and had a wonderful collection of cool fish. Other times, we would travel further south into the Upper Keys, where a wider variety of fish could be found.
We had a large inflatable raft which we carried a 5-gallon bucket and various supplies. Dad did most of the carting over land. Once we got the raft into the water, any of us could pull it wherever it needed to go.
Our “hunting” gear was fairly basic. Some masks and snorkels, a slurp gun (a large plastic tube that had a flat round rubber piece attached to a long shaft that, when pulled back quickly, caused a suction that pulled fish into the tube), some small hand nets and, our big seine net.
The seine net was the big deal. Usually, Dad would be on one end and one of us would be on the other, the weighted bottom of the net would be held down into the turtle grass and the top above the water (it was probably about 3-4 feet deep). We would then move as quickly as water resistance would allow through the grass and gather all sorts of things, sometimes even fish!
My specialty among all this challenging and hard working stuff was sifting through the seaweed. Again, for the marine uninitiated, seaweed floats on top of the ocean, often in clumps, and is teeming with all sorts of sea life. I could literally spend hours just watching the activity in and around seaweed patches.
I would just wander to a seaweed patch with an ordinary aquarium net and pluck out little fishies and stuff. Shrimp, crabs, file fish, puffer fish, and pipe fish…what a circus! The best part of the sea weed duty was that all the fish were tiny. Perfect for the little 10-gallon guy.
If you’ve had aquariums in the past, fresh or salt water, you must have noticed that the little fish seem to have much brighter colors. Many fish, as they grow and age, lose some of that distinctive coloration. For example, the puffer fish were of an amazing variety and color in the sea weed. They were probably the size of my pinkie nail. Other fish, like parrot fish, showed similar bright colors. My little tank was an awesome place to watch fish grow and raise them.
And I do mean raise them. When they got too big for my tank, I transferred them to my sister. When they got too big for her tank, she gave them to her friend. When they got too big for her tank, we put them back in the ocean.
That was another advantage of living in South Florida. We could get easy access to ocean water, filling up several 5-gallon buckets to refresh and refill our tanks. We could also use live ocean plants and coral to create as natural a habitat as possible for the fish. I am convinced that’s why they lived so long and grew so much.
During our “heyday”, we joined the Florida Marine Aquarium Society and the three of us brought our tanks for display one year at the annual aquarium show. It was amazing wandering through all the rooms and seeing all these impressive tanks filled with equally impressive fish. It made me all the more proud when I came back the next day and found a ribbon on my tank (I think it was second place, but I still have it somewhere, so I could check for sure). Me and my little 10-gallon tank…excuse me, award-winning 10-gallon tank.
Because it was so small, I could only raise small fish. But small fish are often the prettiest. So, while size truly does matter, how often do you get to say that in the same breath as “smaller is better”?