7 Essential Tips for First Time Fish Owners

Learn the key factors to keep in mind when first owning pet fish, from picking the right species to setting up and maintaining your aquarium!

Mar 31, 2024By Dallin Darger
essential tips for first time fish owners

Your first time owning a pet fish can seem almost Herculean in scale. After all, how can you keep track of so many different challenges, whether it’s researching fish species, keeping the aquarium habitable, or scheduling maintenance?

Fortunately, these hurdles aren’t as insurmountable as they first appear! With these 7 basics, easy-to-remember tips, you’ll be well on your way to successfully owning your first set of pet fish.

1. Plan the Size of Your Aquarium

green aquarium dark room
Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash

Before considering more specific obstacles, the best place to start is calculating the approximate size of your aquarium. Planning this out ahead of time prevents the dreadful scenario (often encountered by new fish owners) of having a tank you can’t fit inside your home!

To get a rough idea of how large the aquarium will be, you can first look at how much free space you’re working with and rule out anything larger than that number. Next, consider common gallon sizes for fish tanks. 10-gallon fish tanks, for example, are on the smaller side while remaining capable of accommodating popular beginner fish choices like neon tetras and dwarf Corydoras.

2. Choose the Right Location

fish tank exterior
Image by PDPics from Pixabay

Since you’ll be regularly feeding your fish, cleaning the tank, replacing accessories, and changing water, it’s highly recommended that you store the aquarium in an easily-accessible area. Top priorities to keep in mind are electricity and water. For convenience, it’s best to keep the tank near a sink if possible.

Additionally, you’ll want to set up your pump, filter, and heater within easy reach of an electrical outlet. If you’re working with a larger tank, access to more than one electrical circuit may become necessary. This access helps prevent circuit breaking, as a power outage can easily endanger virtually any fish species.

3. Consider a Beginner-Friendly Species

full moon betta fish
Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

It’s no secret that some fish species are harder to manage than others! Luckily, there are some species that are widely acknowledged as more forgiving friends for new owners. Bettas are an excellent choice on this front, as they are generally low-maintenance fish, resilient to varied water conditions, and sport a beautiful combination of colored patterns. That said, bettas are known to be highly aggressive with other fish and are best left as sole occupants.

Another favorite type of fish for beginners is the tetra. Not only are there several subtypes to choose from (including neon, cardinal, and Congo), but each of these types require relatively little maintenance and thrive in most aquarium conditions.

4. Invest in a Quality Filter

aquarium water filter
Wikimedia Commons

The importance of a reliable and high-performing water filter can’t be overstated. A tank’s filtration system is used for removing various types of waste from your aquarium environment. Everything from biological waste to plant debris and excess chemicals will pass through the tank’s filter. Without it, the aquarium will quickly become inhospitable and any fish inside will start to die.

When choosing a filter, it’s ideal to consider the size of your tank and how many fish you plan to introduce to it. This combination plays a big role in determining how high performing of a filtration system you’ll likely need.

5. Prepare and Condition the Tank

empty aquarium workshop
Photo by Skylar Kang

Before we get ahead of ourselves and add our fish, let’s get some prep work out of the way! The tank’s filter is part of this equation, but usually, it’s important to also set up a water heater. After all, many fish species can only survive in very specific temperature ranges. If you plan to add live plants to the aquarium, a separate lighting system can also be a terrific idea.

Once you’ve got your tank filled with water and your equipment is set up, you’re ready to move on to cycling the water. The reason for this step is simple: When you cycle the aquarium’s water before adding fish, you help build a healthy ecosystem. As you can imagine, this cuts down on the risks of the fish dying right after being introduced. The cycling time can be tricky and varies quite a bit, but the whole process usually won’t take longer than a month.

6. Schedule Feeding and Cleaning

koi fish feeding
Photo by Rebecca Campbell on Unsplash

After the pet fish are swimming happily in their new habitat, it’s crucial to work out a regular feeding schedule. Both the type of food and the frequency of feeding depend on the species, so make sure to research these factors ahead of time. A typical feeding schedule is one or two times per day.

Likewise, making sure to regularly clean the aquarium works wonders for promoting fish health and survival. As a rule, it’s best to thoroughly clean the tank from top to bottom roughly every two weeks. But, that time frame can change significantly depending on the size of the tank, the number of fish, and the specific species.

7. Monitor the Aquarium and Make Adjustments

aquarium fish and plants
Wikimedia Commons

Once the setup process is complete and you’ve given your fish some time to adjust, keep a close eye on whether they look like they’re enjoying life. Potential trouble spots for new owners to watch out for are temperature, waste buildup, and aggressive behaviors. All of these are very common risk factors and, if left to fester, can severely jeopardize the survival of the fish.

So, if you see any of these red flags start to pop up, it’s a sign to make a change, whether that means making a temperature adjustment, removing a troublemaker from the environment, or replacing the filter. Even though it can be a hassle to always monitor aquarium conditions, it helps your fish in the long run!


Q: What specific steps should be taken to properly cycle an aquarium before adding fish, and how can you tell when the cycling process is complete?

A: Cycle your aquarium by adding ammonia, then monitor with a test kit until ammonia and nitrite levels drop to zero, indicating beneficial bacteria are established.

Q: How can a beginner determine the ideal temperature and pH levels for their specific fish species, and what equipment is needed to maintain these conditions?

A: Determine ideal conditions by researching your fish species; use heaters for temperature and test kits for pH, adjusting with conditioners as needed.

Q: What are the signs of aggressive behavior to look out for in fish, and how should a fish owner intervene if one fish is bullying others?

A: Aggressive behavior includes chasing and nipping. Rearrange the tank or provide hiding spots to disrupt territories, or isolate the aggressive fish if necessary.

Dallin Darger
By Dallin Darger

Dallin is a passionate, seasoned pet owner and enthusiast. He has, over the course of 27 years, owned and loved a litany of breeds, from Labrador retrievers and calico cats to angelfish and neon tetras. Much of his free time is spent researching and learning everything he can about unfamiliar and exciting types of wildlife.