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I recently performed some maintenance on my tank which required me to move all of my fish from one tank to another holding tank for a short period of time.

The most difficult part of this entire process was successfully capturing the fish before and after the maintenance. I figured I must be missing some kind of trick or technique which led me to ask:

What is the best way to catch my fish with minimal stress for them?

I used a few different techniques to eventually catch them all but it took a while. The techniques I tried were:

  • For anything with spikes / spines (Bristlenose Catfish etc) I used a jug to transport them in because I didn't want them to catch their spines in the net. On the whole, this worked well but would be harder with faster, smaller fish.
  • I used a largish net to catch the tetras (cardinal / rummy nose) and most were relatively easy with a bit of corralling.
  • The most difficult to catch were the Zebra Loaches which seemed both suitably fast and clever to completely outwit me. The net I used was almost as wide as the tank but they were seriously impressive in their evasion attempts.

My primary concern is stressing the fish out. I don't want to endlessly chase them around the tank because I don't think it does anyone involved any good. I deliberately caught the fish which is normally quite jumpy (Opaline Gourami) first so I had the element of surprise. After a few fish had been taken out, the rest knew what was happening and upped their game.


Additional Thoughts:

  • I could probably have drained more water out of the tank. It was still about 1 third full so there was room for them to evade me still.
  • I tried to balance 'sufficiently gentle' and 'fast enough' so maybe I need to go for more speed?
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    IMO, a clear acrylic fish trap is the least stressful method. If done correctly, fish often have no clue they're being trapped at all. It's not always possible to catch everything because some fish are extremely skittish of just a hand being in the tank, or decorations and hardsdcape get in the way, but compared to a net, it's worlds better IMO. – Jestep Dec 6 '17 at 22:10
  • @Jestep Wow, never knew that was a thing! Have you got an example? – Henders Dec 6 '17 at 22:14
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    @Jestep, I think that would be a good answer. – mhwombat Dec 7 '17 at 13:43
  • You can also make a trap by cutting a large plastic bottle at the upper shoulder and reversing the top funnel shaped piece. If you cut at a good spot the top press fits into the bottom . So approaching from the outside the fish comes to a funnel to the inside. But from the inside , they are confined between the funnel and the bottle body. Also traps bees and wasps from the humming bird feeders if you hang it nearby. – blacksmith37 Jan 4 '18 at 22:13
  • @blacksmith37 I did think about doing this but I was concerned about the sharp edge from the cut plastic. – Henders Jan 5 '18 at 9:26
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IMO, a clear acrylic fish trap is the least stressful method. If done correctly, fish often have no clue they're being trapped at all. It's not always possible to catch everything because some fish are extremely skittish of just a hand being in the tank, or decorations and hardsdcape get in the way, but compared to a net, it's worlds better IMO. - Jestep [in the comments]

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Saltwater acrylic fish trap, a clear box with holes and sliding hatch Image from Amazon.com

I hadn't heard of fish traps, but have had quick success & therefore hopefully less stress. By using a glass jar. It was especially useful with my tiger barbs, they would swim near the surface and I could use the water rushing into the glass to 'suck' the fish in too.

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  • Sorry missed this, but yes this is basically it. You can also use a clear container to slowly scoop them and not just trap them. Something like the Tom's dip and pour often works well: marinedepot.com/… The scoop method works better with fish that aren't extremely skittish. I can catch most of my marine fish in a few minutes with one of these as well as larger FW fish like angelfish and discus. I've also heard red nets are a big upgrade but haven't tried myself. – Jestep Jan 8 '18 at 17:54

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