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The Beginner's Pocket Guide to Fishkeeping

Fishing guide

Guest Author: Matt Leighton

Fishkeeping can be one of the most exciting and easiest hobbies there is. While there are many misconceptions regarding the difficulty of caring for fish, it can be much easier than you'd think.

If you're new to keeping fish and looking for advice on the best beginner fish, what you'll need to get started, and basic care guidelines - you're in the right place!

Fish 1

Easiest Fish To Start With

For those new to this, it's best to start with fish that are easy to care for and inexpensive.

One great beginner fish is the Betta.  These tropical fish are popular pets due to their bright colors and beautiful appearance.  While they are easy to care for, keep in mind that male bettas need to be housed alone. Due to their fighting origins, they will attack when placed with other fish; this usually results in the death or one or both Bettas.

Fish5 Fish beta
Another great type of fish to start with are Mollies.


They are tropical fish and require a small amount of salt in their water. Mollies are extremely easy to care for and do best in a school. They come in lots of bright colors and several types.  (The one above is a "Dalmation" Molly)

Perhaps the most common beginner fish is the Goldfish.

Fish gold

They are freshwater fish that require very little care and come in many vibrant shades of red and orange. Like Mollies, Goldfish are community fish that can be kept with other varieties.

Just remember that goldfish should not be kept in a tiny bowl! They can actually grow to be very large and require more space than most people would have you believe.

What You'll Need

To get started on your first aquarium there are several items you will need and a few things that are optional.

First, let's take a look at the items you always need.

  • Tank
  • Filter
  • Food

Before buying a fish tank, you'll have to decide what kind of fish and how many you'll keep.

Certain types of fish, such as Betta, do well in smaller 1 to 5 gallon tanks, but some, such as Oscars, require more space.

Another key factor in choosing a tank size will be your living arrangements and where you plan to set the tank up.

Fish 6

If you have very little space you may be best going with a Betta fish in a 1 to 3 gallon tank. On the other hand, if you have a large wall you're looking to cover, a 50 to 100 gallon tank is better.

Aside from Betta, most other varieties of fish require an aquarium filter.

This system circulates oxygen through the water so the fish can breathe, while also helping keep the water cleaner. Fish are sensitive so it's imperative they are kept in a clean, sustainable environment.

The last item you'll need when you bring the fish home is food. It's best to do a little research and see what kind of food your fish prefer.

While this is quite a research-heavy topic (which we can’t quite get into in this “pocket” guide), a quick rule of thumb for carnivores is that you MUST read the ingredient list of food. Too often cheap foods are full of carbohydrate fillers which are not healthy for your fish.

You can also give "treats" to your fish. Many pet stores offer different types of worms, krill and more.

Now let's take a look at other items you might need such as:

  • Heater
  • Substrate
  • Live Plants

(and if you’re like me...way, way more items than just these three!)

Setting up your tank may take additional items depending on the type of fish you choose. There are types of fish that require saltwater systems, heaters, and other special living conditions.

Again make sure to research your breed of fish to determine ideal living conditions to see if they have any special requirements.

For most enthusiasts, the best part of setting up a fish tank is decorating it. There are lots of decor items available such as substrate, houses, live plants, tunnels and more.

If you're going to use minimal decor be sure you choose a substrate. Gravel is among the best choice as it provides housing for beneficial bacteria which helps break-down your fish's waste.

Live plants are a great option as they help balance certain nutrients and biochemicals. Just remember that live plants require a small amount of trimming and additional chemicals.

What To Expect

So you've made it this far. Now it's time to talk about the basics of caring for your new fish and what to expect.

Let's say you chose a Betta fish. The basic items you should have are the tank, gravel, water conditioning drops, and a plant for the fish to hide. Bettas love live plants such as moss balls.

Moss balls

They are extremely easy to care for. It's recommended to feed them a small amount of food every other day. Water changes are minimal if you switch out about 25% of the water each week. Doing this will keep full water changes to each month or longer.

Regardless of what kind of fish you choose they will require water changes and feeding. The frequency of each will depend on the type of fish.

A good rule of thumb for feeding is not to give them more food than the size of their eye. They have small stomachs and overfeeding can cause health problems and dirty water.

As far as water changes go, the frequency will be determined by the size of the tank, the amount of fish inside the tank, and how much you feed them. 

Fish water kit

A water testing kit is a great investment for any fish keeper. The kit can be used to test the water for ammonia and nitrates easily at home. They are available from local pet stores and online retailers.

In the end, investing in fish can be a very rewarding experience! They are easy to care for and getting into fish keeping can cost as little or much as you want.


Fish pattern cropped

About the Author: Matt Leighton is a web designer by day and a long-time fishkeeper by night. He grew up taking care of his parents' fish tanks, and developed a love for the hobby. No matter if you've got a nano tank or a massive whole-wall setup, he is passionate about helping you find joy in fishkeeping.