In April of last year my girlfriend and I bought a house together and were very excited to move in at the beginning of July. The move itself went very well thanks to the help of a good moving company, some great family and friends, and especially the hard work and planning of my girlfriend Sue. The point of interest for this article (hopefully) was moving my fishroom, all 2000 gallons of it.
I had been living in my own house for 16 years and at the time had a dozen tanks set up and running. For a lot of hobbyists I know this is not that big a deal as I have seen 300 tank fish rooms and people spawning betas with over 500 jars of fish. A good friend of mine in Regina, Larry Miller maintained over 50 tanks, 10 of which were over 100 gallons in a finished family room in the basement.
My dilemma however was that one of my dozen tanks was a 12 foot wide, 9000 pound, 1000 gallon monster bin that was built in place and would not come out of the basement in one piece. The tank itself weighed over 600lbs without water. The first question from everyone I knew once they found out I was moving was “What are you going to do with the big tank!?!”. Good question, I wasn’t sure myself. Let’s just call this issue #1.
My original fishroom took up a space in the basement that was roughly 30 by 14 feet or 420 sq. feet with the tanks sprawled all over the place. The room we had chosen for the fish in our new house was the smaller leg of the L-shaped family room in the basement and was 12 by 10 feet or 120 sq. feet. Fitting my current fishroom into a space one quarter the size of the previous one was an issue all by itself but too make matters worse once I had sketched out a floor plan I liked for the tanks, the room would have no door into it! Call this issue #2.
Issue #3. Back in February myself and several of my fish head cronies had done a fish order from the states. You might question the sanity of buying a bunch more fish just before moving but the possibility of more new and cool species swimming around my tanks made me set aside reason for the moment. The airfreight is expensive so we tend to order a lot to make it worthwhile. I ordered 7 species myself and all 12 of my tanks were stuffed to the max with fish. This is a problem (or not depending on your point of view) I am sure all hobbyists can relate to from time to time. And these were not the nice, peaceful schooling characin type fish either.
The whole order consisted of South and Central American Cichlids, all growing and getting more rambunctious by the day. Anyone who has had to move a lot of fish in a short period of time knows that they are not like furniture or boxes of stuff. You can’t just leave them at your new place and put them away later. These fish are aggressive, territorial types that will tend to shred each other if left in a bare tank for too long. However many tanks we managed to move on any given day would all need to be set back up that same day. When I look back on the timing of that particular order the word ‘STUPID’ comes to mind.
Jump forward now to the beginning of May. Good news, my house has sold and the new owners take possession on the beginning of August. I can now start working on issue #1 without fear of scaring away real estate agents and prospective homebuyers with a big mess from tank building. Even better news is that the new homeowners have asked to keep the big tank. It is 12 feet wide by 3 feet deep by 4 feet back. It was built with double thickness ¾” plywood laminated together with a 12 foot, ¾” thick glass front. Even if I could get enough friends together to lift the tank once it was empty (who would then never speak to me again), without cutting a big hole to the outside of my house there is no way that this tank is coming out in one piece.
My plan is to build another big tank for the new house, this one being 10 feet wide by 30” deep and once again 4 feet back with the same double plywood construction. I reduced the depth so I could reach the bottom without arm extensions! With a cedarwoood front to match the rest of the family room the new tank will make a beautiful showpiece and still be a respectable 750 gallons, or as I like to put it, a nice beginner size tank. The only problem now is that it took me 4 months to build the original tank and I will have one month to build the new one, including a 75 gallon trickle filter to go with it.
On to issue #2. Unlike my old fishroom which was a motley collection of a bunch of different tanks scattered all over the place, I wanted the new room to look like it had always been there or at the very least have a finished, organized look. The old spruce 2×4 stands would be replaced with new cedar stands to match the existing walls. Not hard to build but keep in mind the tight schedule. Besides the big tank, the old fishroom consisted of one 8’ wide 360 gallon tank, one 6’ wide 180 gallon tank, two 3’ wide 90 gallon tanks, two 3’ wide 60 gallon tanks, one 33 gallon and one 20 gallon tank. These were all custom built wooden tanks and as well I have three 12 gallon glass tanks for fry.
My original plan was to have all of the remaining tanks fit along a wall that was 12’ wide by 8’ tall with a window on one side. I did not want to cover the window because I wanted all the natural light I could get in the basement. I also wanted only two rows of tanks because I didn’t want to view the fish while sitting on the floor and I needed the space under the tanks for the trickle filters anyway. It all worked fine in my head until I tried to draw it on paper. It took only a couple of frustrating moments to realize that trying to stuff all of these tanks into a space that was one quarter the size they came from was not going to work, period.
A compromise was needed and several sheets of paper later I came up with a new layout that actually worked out pretty well. Working from left to right I stacked the two 60 gallon tanks and underneath them would sit the three glass 12 gallon tanks placed on end just off the floor. As these three are used as fry grow out tanks I didn’t worry too much about them having a good viewing angle. Next to these the two 90 gallon tanks were replaced by a single 100 gallon tank custom built to a width that would accommodate the window on the top row. Underneath this would sit the 360 gallon tank transformed into 300 gallons by cutting six inches off the back.
This would maintain the 32” shelf space I had for all of the tanks. A note here, when you are considering changing the size off of an existing tank, even a wooden one, bare in mind that it is almost as much work as building a new one. This pretty much filled my wall space and I still hadn’t placed all of the tanks including the 6 foot 180 gallon tank. I considered selling it off for a moment but I just had too many fish to house. (Remember the fish order in February!!) Sue came up with the idea that I set it up temporarily in the storeroom under the stairs next to the fishroom. This would work perfectly as it would be sitting against the same wall as the rest of the tanks allowing me to connect it to the automatic water changer. Life is good! The remaining two 20 and 30 gallon tanks were eliminated from the plan outright. Not a big deal considering the size of fish I like to keep anyway.
Last but not least, issue #3, what to do with all of the fish?? Three tanks would be gone. Total volume of water would be reduced by almost 500 gallons. The fish would have to be packed in tight to fit in the remaining space and we are talking about cichlids here. For help on this problem I turned to a good friend of mine, Chris Biggs in Winnipeg. Chris is probably the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to the aquarium hobby and if anybody could help sort out this problem it would be Chris. He and I went over the list of fish I had at the time (I think it was 14 different species of South and Central American cichlids) and decided which fish would go in which tank together and believe me when we were done they were packed in tight! How did we do? During the whole moving process I lost only three fish and actually had five different species spawn. (Which of course created it’s own set of problems!) Big thanks to Chris here!
Jump forward again to the middle of August, fish moving day. In the past two months I have managed to build a 750 gallon tank, a stand and a 75 gallon trickle filter to go with it as well as another 100 gallon tank and all the shelving for the various other tanks. Oh yes, and Sue and I have moved into our new house which is awesome. To say we were busy during this time would be a little bit of an understatement. On the first fish moving day I had four friends helping and we actually got all the tanks moved except for the big one. The process we used was brutally simple. The fish were netted out of the tanks and put into buckets of their own tank water. The tank was then drained down to the gravel and then muscled out into the moving truck pretty much intact. (Did you ever notice that when moving everything about this hobby is heavy? Gravel, rocks, water, tank…)
We had a lot of buckets that day and we tried and move as much original water as possible with the tanks. At the new house the tanks were placed on the shelves (In the case of the two 90 gallon tanks, on the floor. I was not going to keep them but I needed them for a temporary set-up.) We then simply dumped the original water complete with fish back into the tank and topped them up with fresh de-chlorinated water. Using this technique I did not experience any problems with new-tank syndrome or ammonia build-up or at least none that affected the fish and keep in mind the tanks at this point were full of fish. For filtration I ran used sponge filters in all of the tanks from my air system which at this point was laying on the floor.
The only mishap of the day occurred while we were trying to get one of the 90 gallon tanks through my new make-shift fishroom door which at this point was simply a rough opening cut through the drywall with live wiring still running across at knee height. (Hey, I didn’t say it was an easy day!) The opening at this point was only big enough for one person to get through carrying a tank and a 90 gallon tank with a full bottom of wet sand is heavy, very heavy. One of us was carrying the tank across and as was bound to happen, caught his foot on the wiring. Trying to balance himself the tank slipped out of his grasp and landed on the floor on the corner of the tank, hard. This normally would have been a disaster but thanks to the fact that it was a wooden tank no harm was done. Love those wooden tanks! This completed day 1 of tank moving, so far so good.
Day 2 of tank moving and today is the 1000 gallon tank. On that day there was three of us moving, myself and two good friends of mine who also happen too be very experienced hobbyists. I just want to point out here that having people helping me move who are also in the aquarium hobby was a big help that saved me a lot of work. Besides the obvious advantage of having more warm bodies to help move things, it meant that I did not have to be in two places at the same time tear down and set-up. As I mentioned before, moving swimming, living things is much more complicated than moving boxes. Back too the tank. I unplugged the pumps and heaters and using several hoses we drained the tank down to about a foot of water. Surprisingly enough it didn’t take that long.
I then got in the tank and started netting out fish. We had several coolers laid out on the floor half filled with tank water each lined with a large clear plastic bag. I would net the fish out and hand them to Kevin or Dwayne who would place them in one of the coolers, with the fish usually soaking all of us in the process. At one point while trying to catch one of the red hook silver dollars (Myleus rubrapinnis), several of them actually jumped right over my shoulder. That was something you didn’t see everyday. Once they were in the cooler we would either tie the top of the bag or tape the lid down on the cooler depending on how spiny or jumpy the fish was. My niger catfish (Pseudadoras niger) actually did spine its way out of the bag and was trying to crawl out. With all its spines none of us wanted to touch it until Dwayne finally used the toe of his sandal (maybe not the best move!) to push it back into the cooler and close the lid.
With all of the fish I had in the tank it took us three trips back and forth to get them to the new house and most of the fish were big enough to need their own cooler. At the new house we once again simply poured the contents of the cooler directly into the tank. It had only been running a week so besides adding ‘Start-Right’ to avoid a dangerous ammonia build-up I took a few precautions. I transferred as much old water as I could (pretty tough with a 1000 gallons). I also took the old biomaterial from the existing trickle filter and transferred it in the new filter. And last but not least I did not feed the tank at all for the next two weeks. My Gold Arrowana (Scleriopages formosus) did not eat anything for three months after but that’s another story.
With that we were done, almost. We still had 400 pounds of rocks and 600 pounds of gravel to transfer on one of the hottest days of that summer. We did get it done however and at the end of that day my fishroom move was complete. A cold beer was definitely in order.
In closing I’d like to say thanks to some folks who helped a lot, Kevin Kaschl, Chris Biggs, Dwayne Hopper and Kelly Morrison. Special thanks go to Virgil Lenton and Kevin Acton. Without Virgil I never would have gotten all the tank building done in a month, he was there helping almost every night. Kevin not only supplied a moving van and crucial power tools but also sweated through three of the hottest moving days with us including the big tank. Last but most importantly my biggest thanks go to my girlfriend Susan. Her planning is a godsend and her hard work and encouragement are what made it all happen. Thanks Sue!!