When you first get into the Aquarium Hobby, You might be thinking about, How to plan your first fish tank? How to select suitable fish? What equipment is needed? and many more questions. 

So in this first chapter of “Beginners’ Guide to Fishkeeping”, we’re going to cover the most important things that you need to know before you even spend a dollar on any equipment or fish.

Fish are more interactive and personable pets than you might think. The way, fish swim around the aquarium and weave through rocks and plants is really entertaining. So let’s start by selecting the fish for your tank.

How to Select Fish for Your First Aquarium?

When setting up your new aquarium, the most important step is the decision on the suitable fish. Sometimes, it might seem strange to select the fish before setting up the tank. But many future decisions like tank size, aquarium setup, and filter types are predicated on what kind of fish you’re keeping. So it’s better to make this decision at the beginning and set the tank up. 

Which Fish Are Best for Beginners?

There are so many types of fish with different personalities and different habitats. So selecting suitable fish for your aquarium is not an easy task. It can be pretty overwhelming. You can’t just run into the aquarium shop, grab a handful of fish and throw them in the tank. If you do, you might be turning your tank into a battlefield.

So, it’s a decision that can take some time to make. So plan on doing some research. Take your time and enjoy this process. Here is a list of things to be checked before selecting the fish for your aquarium.

Water Parameters

The first thing to look for is the water parameters that your fish require. This will tell you whether your tap water at home is acceptable for the fish. Sometimes you might need to adjust the pH and hardness slightly to suit the fish that you want to keep. 

Growth Rate

The next thing you need to look for is how big these fish can potentially grow. It will also help you in deciding what size of the aquarium to get when you’re first setting up your fish tank. Otherwise, you will need a tank upgrade when your fish grows big. 


The temperament of your selected fish is a critical factor when you are getting tank mates for your fish. You may not keep all your preferred aquarium fish in one tank. Each fish has its own personality. So check whether your fish is aggressive, mildly aggressive, or a nice fish for others. It will help you to keep the peace in your tank. 

Tank Setup

Before planning the tank setup, you need to know whether your fish is an open-water swimmer or a bottom dweller. 

Orange Venezuelan Cory fish
Bottom Dwellers – Orange Venezuelan Cory fish

If you are a minimalist and don’t like a lot of decorations in the tank, it’s better to get open swimmers. But if you love really intricate, decorated tanks and rock formations, getting a fish that doesn’t require a lot of open space might make sense. 

Bottom dwellers are pretty self-explanatory. They scavenge the bottom picking up leftover food or sometimes even snacking on other fish waste. So if you’re going to keep a lot of bottom-dwellers, you need to keep a lot of floor space open, for fish to be able to scavenge through. 

Breeding Habitats

Oscar fish breeding
Oscar Fish Breeding

There are so many things that can happen in an aquarium if your fish start breeding. Sometimes their attitudes can change and they can become violent towards other fish. 

So if you don’t want your fish to breed in your tank, and if you don’t want babies in your tank, you should take the necessary steps to control breeding. So it’s better to know your preferred fish`s breeding habits before you buy them.

Some fish are difficult to breed in a domestic environment. But some fish varieties like platies, mollies, and sword-tails breed all the time. 

Sword-tail fish aquarium
Sword-tail Fish

So if you are willing to keep those kinds of fish but don’t want babies, you should try to avoid their breeding. As an example, you can get those fish from one gender and completely take away the chances of breeding.

So these are just a few of the important factors that you need to research before making the decision to go towards a certain type of fish. The information is out there and it’s easy to find. You could visit the fish in the pet store and ask Siri or type it into your phone and find out tons of information about that particular fish. 

So don’t rush this, take your time and educate yourself about the fish that you’re interested in before you actually buy it. Then you will be saving yourself a ton of headaches down the road.

What are the Necessary Equipment to set up a New Aquarium?

Necessary Equipment to set up a New Aquarium
Necessary Equipment to set up a New Aquarium

After deciding what the fish types are, we’re going to talk about selecting the right equipment for your first aquarium. Let’s not get frustrated and keep it simple. These are the bare-bone essentials when you first get into the aquarium hobby.

  • Fish Tank with Stand & Lid
  • Aquarium Substrate
  • Filter System
  • Aquarium Lights
  • Aquarium Heater & Thermometer
  • Air Pump
  • Fishing Net
  • Necessary Chemicals

There are plenty of other gadgets and things that you can put in the aquarium. But as beginners, we’re just talking about the most important things that you need to start up your first aquarium. 

Fish Tank with Stand & Lid

The first thing that you need to set up your aquarium is the fish tank, stand, and lid. Already you have decided what type of fish that you want and that decision might lead you to know what size of tank you will need for that fish. 

How many fish can I put in my tank?

One gallon of water per inch of fish is a popular rule of thumb among aquarists to determine the aquarium size. This rule states that your tank should be large enough to accommodate 1 gallon of water for every inch of fish you want to keep.

Although the rule of thumb can be used to get a rough idea about aquarium size, stocking your fish tank should not depend solely on that. There are some more factors to be considered. The right aquarium size totally depends on the fish that you are going to keep.

How do I choose the right size Aquarium?

Firstly, it is recommended to get at least a 5 gallons tank for even a single fish. Low-capacity tanks under 5 gallons (such as fish bowls) are particularly vulnerable to pH changes and the accumulation of hazardous chemicals and waste materials. 

It also doesn’t provide enough surface area that is necessary for healthy gas exchange. So even with a single fish, it can get disturbed and more susceptible to diseases.

Also, you should consider the fish’s body shape, growth rate, waste production, activity levels, temperament, and other environmental needs like temperature and water salinity.

So It’s important to do your own research to ensure that your aquarium is pleasant and accommodating for all of the fish you want to keep. The best approach to ensure that you establish the safest, most pleasant home for your fish is to thoroughly investigate different fish varieties and their environmental requirements.

Standard Aquarium Sizes
Standard Aquarium Sizes

As a common, 55 gallons is the best size of aquarium for a beginner. It’s great for a home as it doesn’t overpower a room. Also, it’s big enough to give you plenty of options. 

Aquarium Substrate

Any loose material that makes up the tank bottom can be referred to as an aquarium substrate. Choosing the right substrate can be a little bit complicated as there are different types, colors, and textures. 

Do you need a substrate for the aquarium?

Aquarium substrate is not necessary for a fish tank. In fact, you can completely avoid it and set up a bare-bottom tank. There are both pros and cons of an aquarium substrate depending on the tank setup.

As an example, if you are setting up a planted tank, the substrate will be necessary for plants to root easily into the bottom. Also, if you are planning to keep some kind of fish varieties like plecos and cories, they will prefer a tank set up with a suitable substrate.

What are the uses of Aquarium Substrates?

  • Provide a natural habitat for aquatic life in the aquarium.
  • Provide essential texture and nutrition for plant growth.
  • Enhance the natural beauty of the aquarium.
  • Providing enough surface area for beneficial bacteria colonies.
  • Enhance the water condition by balancing water hardness and PH.

What are the different types of aquarium substrates?

Aquarium Substrates
Aquarium Substrates

There are specific types of substrates to be used for different purposes such as aqua soil for plants, and fine coral sand for marine tanks. Here is a list of commonly used aquarium substrates. 

  • Pebbles
  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Aqua Soil

Read our “Ultimate Guide to aquarium substrates” for more information regarding different substrates and their pros and cons.

Filter System

The filter system is the life support system of an aquarium. This is one of the most important decisions that you’re going to make when you’re setting up your aquarium. 

You have several different options and they all work fine; it just depends on how far you want to go with it. Read our “Ultimate Guide to Aquarium Filters” for a detailed review of all the different types of filters. Here is a quick recap of the most popular aquarium filters in the hobby.

Sponge Filters

Different types of sponge filters
Different types of sponge filters

Sponge filters are very simple filters that run off of an air pump. It’s easy to set up and easy to maintain. Normally sponge filters are used in small tanks, but if you have a very limited budget it’s ok to use a couple of sponge filters in a medium-scale tank too.

Hang on the Back Filters 

Filter media of hang on the back filters
Hang on the Back Filters

Hang on the back filters are pretty self-explanatory. They hang off of the back of your tank and have a tube that goes down into the tank to suck the water up into its filter. Then with gravity, it dumps over the side into your aquarium. 

These are very efficient and probably the most common filters in the hobby. Also, you can pick them up just about anywhere. So for a beginner, Hang on the back filters are a good choice.

Canister Filters

different types of canister filters with filter media
Different Types of Canister Filters with Filter Media

Canister filters are the most efficient aquarium filters with a lot of functions. Also, they are absolutely silent and connect externally to the aquarium. Normally canisters are used in medium and large-scale aquariums.

But Canister filters are a little bit more expensive. So if you’re on a limited budget, It’s better to stick with Hang on the back filters that we discussed above. 

Sump Filters

Sump filters for aquariums
Sump Filters

Sump filters are massive systems that will sit underneath your aquarium. They’re extremely efficient as canisters and used in medium and large-scale aquariums. But for a beginner, sumps can be a little bit complicated. 

Aquarium Lights

Aquarium lighting may seem a little bit confusing with various types, brands, and some myths in the aquarium hobby.

Do Fish need lights in the Aquarium?

Proper lighting condition is essential for aquarium fish to determine the day and night. Also, it is essential for the growth of your aquarium plants. But if there are enough natural lights in the daytime, it is not necessary to set up artificial lights in the aquarium. 

However, if your aquarium is in a basement or a place where there is no sufficient light, it’s recommended to use an appropriate light. Also, aquarium lights can be used to enhance the natural beauty of your fish tank.

How to Select the Best Aquarium Light for your Fish Tank?

When deciding on a suitable aquarium light, there are several important factors to be considered. The first one is the tank setup. Different aquarium startups like freshwater, marine and planted tanks will need different lighting conditions.

Nest the aquarium size. The required brightness level depends on the length and depth of the tank. Also, the required lighting level may depend on the lifestyle of your fish. Not matching the right light illuminance and color, may cause stress to your fish.

Finally, you should consider the budget. There are various types of lights from different brands. So after deciding the required brightness level, it’s better to balance the initial cost, electrical efficiency, lifetime, and product warranty of the light before purchasing.

Read our “Ultimate Guide to Aquarium Lighting”  for more details about selecting a proper light and the pros and cons. Here is a list of common types of aquarium lights in the hobby.

Aquarium lights
Aquarium Lights
  • Fluorescent Lights
  • LED Lights
  • Metal Halide lights

Aquarium Heater and Thermometer

Aquarium heaters and Thermometers are essential to maintain the right temperature in your fish tank. It’s pretty simple and usually a glass cylinder that goes down into the tank. It attaches to the side glass with suction cups. 

Normally it needs five watts per gallon of water in your fish tank. So when you get your heater, make sure to get the proper wattage for your aquarium size.

Aquarium Air Pump

Aquarium Air pumps are important to maintain the right Oxygen level in the water which is essential for life. Also, it helps to keep the water circulation through your tank by helping to increase the current.

As well as the moving bubbles from air stones can be used to decorate the aquarium with funny moving gadgets like a pirate’s chest or skull.

Aquarium Fishing Net

When you are cleaning the aquarium or in case of an emergency, you may need to transfer your fish from one tank to another. Then some fish are very active and difficult to be caught. In that case, aquarium fishing nets will be very useful. It allows you to catch the wanted fish without much effect.

Necessary Chemicals

Necessary Aquarium chemicals
Necessary Aquarium Chemicals

When it comes to chemicals, there are so many different types that we can buy and use in our aquariums. Some of those chemicals are absolutely necessary and some maybe not be so. 

So there are chemicals that help you with taking out the chlorine and chloramine from the water. Some chemicals help to condition the water and make it more tolerable for fish. There are bacterial cultures that you can add to speed up the biological filtration. There are medications and test kits that you can use to test your aquarium water. Fertilizers for your reef and your freshwater tanks. Buffer salts and a bunch of other additives that you can use to change the condition of the water and also help with the Filtration.

Likewise, there are various types of chemicals and it can be quite confusing for people that are getting into the hobby. Therefore try to keep it simple and just focus on a couple of things that are necessary at the startup. 

What chemicals do you need to start a tropical fish tank?


So the first thing that you absolutely need is some type of de-chlorinator to remove chlorine or chloramine from your water supply. Most people that have aquariums are getting water from the tap. 

Very few fish keepers have access to reverse osmosis water and equally very few people have access to well water that isn’t contaminated with heavy metals fertilizers or chlorine. 

So having some type of chlorine remover or some type of water conditioner that does detoxify chlorine and chloramine is going to be critical in keeping fish. 

Aquarium Test Kits

The next absolutely important thing is some type of test kit. Test kits come in various forms. You can buy little strips of paper-type test kits that should be dipped in water to check the water parameters. 

Also, some other test kits come with liquid chemicals. They should be added to a vial of water from your aquarium and check what’s going on in your tank.


Next up, if you want to speed up your aquarium cycling process there are some more chemicals that you can use. Also, It’s better to purchase some common medications like methylene blue which is used to prevent and treat harmful fungus.

As a newbie, you will need only those main chemicals to start your first aquarium. Read our “Ultimate Guide to Aquarium chemicals” to get a detailed view of all the other chemicals and their uses.

Now, there are plenty of other gadgets and things that you can put in the aquarium. But we just talked about the most important things that you need. Also, there are complete kits that include all the required equipment and chemicals to start an aquarium.


Up To now, You have decided what fish you are gonna keep and according to that, you have planned what type of aquarium setup you will need for that. Also now you have an understanding about the essential equipment that you’re going to need to set up your first aquarium.

Next up, let’s discuss how to set up your aquarium, how to decorate it, and how to establish a quality environment before accumulating.


I am Prasanjaya who is an aquarium hobbyist for nearly a decade. I wish to help fishkeepers to get accurate and helpful information regarding every aspect of fishkeeping.

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