When we first step into the aquarium hobby, we have a notion that we will somehow be able to set up a glass box with lots of pretty fish and all will go on happily ever after. Obviously this is the furthest thing from the truth, But with a few simple guidelines, we can come surprisingly close to this goal.
Select the proper equipment. This is usually the first problem encountered by the novice hobbyist, and this also can carry on as we advance into the hobby as well. The instinct is to buy cheap. When we start to look into the costs of setting up an aquarium, we quickly realize that it is anything but inexpensive. But what is less expensive is often less effective. Yet many times what is more expensive is no better than something less expensive. How is a person to determine which is best. Much is dependent of the caliber of the people you deal with.Nothing replaces the value of caring, knowledgeable help in your local fish store. For those dealing with less than that the decisions become clouded in confusion and misinformation. Choose your help wisely. They will assist you in choosing your equipment wisely in turn.
So how do you determine who is the right persons to talk to. First shop around. Visit as many of the local shops as possible, Ask simple questions. Ask about local water conditions. Ask about tank size. Ask how many fish to start with. Ask about starting a mini tank (smaller than 10 gallons). These questions will tell you if a person is knowledgeable. They should know about local conditions, even if there are several water systems in various areas locally. They should sensibly recommend a decent size tank. They should suggest that although a tank can hold a certain number of fish, you should start with far fewer, and explain why. They should discourage you from starting a small tank, since this is the most difficult for the hobbyist to deal with. Seek out the person who gathers a crowd. This is the person the patrons of that sore have come to know as their expert. Trust the judgment of others in this regard. If they feel it is worth the wait, most likely it is.
Once a person is found reliable, ask questions. There are no stupid questions. If you do not know the answer, it needs to be answered. Let the expertise of the person you speak with help guide you, but do not go only on their word. Make notes, and then do some research. The fact that you are reading this means you have access to the internet and Tom's Place. These resources allow you to compare notes with other hobbyists. Make the most of this, compare what is said with what has been recommended to you. Then you are ready to purchase.
Start slowly. This is the most crucial of all advice. Patience is a feature you cannot buy, but one you really must learn if success is to be yours. When a tank is started slowly it has a much better chance to establish itself easily, without losing fish. The tank needs to run in a few days before fish are added, and then fish should be added in small numbers. Generally I recommend adding only one fish for every five gallons, and small fish at that. If larger fish must be added, then it is wise to only add one, regardless of tank size. The reasoning behind this is simple. The more fish, the more food. The more food, the more waste. The more waste, the higher the toxic levels of ammonia (from fish waste and uneaten food) and nitrite (a preliminary byproduct of ammonia) will rise. These chemical compounds are lethal to fish in even small amounts, so it is vital to keep populations small until you can establish a colony of bacteria capable of digesting these chemicals. Even after the levels stabilize, adding fish should be a slow process, to allow for continuing development of the colony without overloading it.
Preventative care. It is far easier to prevent problems than it is to cure them. A normal aquarium contains fish that eat, produce waste, and eventually overpower a system. By doing regular partial water changes, coupled with efficient vacuuming of the gravel to remove particulate matter, you can eliminate the total breakdown of a tank to remedy these problems. You should never clean more than half the gravel at a given time, and less is even better. If partial changes are done, only minor changes to things like pH and nitrates will occur, and the fish respond better to more stable circumstances. A ten minute job can prevent half a day of repair and rebuilding.
Avoid unnecessary extras. Too often we add things to our aquariums that we think will assist in it's good health. Too often, we add things that can adversely effect the long term health of the fish. Never add medicines to prevent disease, simple good care of the tank will generally do this. It is better to keep a small tank to isolate new fish to make sure they remain healthy rather than to medicate just in case. Many ailment that cause fish death are caused by pathogens that can mutate in the presence of medications, and then afflict the fish later, leaving the medication useless. We are usually not aware that this has happened until the fish die, and then it is too late. A healthy tank needs no extras. Just good care.
Don't listen to everybody. While many people keep fish, and they all have ways to keep their tanks the way they want, your tank will be as individual as you are. Find a good source of information, and use it. If someone suggests something else, confer with your source. Sometimes we kill with kindness. Mixing medications can be deadly. Chemicals can react with each other, causing more harm than the good they were each intended to do. Respect the opinions of others, but trust and follow those you know you can depend on.
There are many other ways to help as well, but these keys are vital. As you advance in the hobby, you will eventually become a trusted one to someone else. What goes around comes around they say.