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Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Tue Nov 12, 2019 12:19 pm

Well, no aquarium project is completely finished until it supports life, and in this case, fish. I had a little time late on Sunday to get out to a creek that is only 15 minutes from my house to catch a few fish. My goal was to collect a few minnows of any time, and if lucky, a couple darters. So, I gathered up my hip boots, a bucket, and my net, and headed to the creek.

After about a quarter mile hike, I got to the spot that I wanted to collect. I had about an hour or so before the lost of daylight. I walked the creek bank for a bit and didn't see any fish at all. Either the fish weren't there, or the cold weather had them all hiding. I wasn't sure if perhaps they migrated out of the creek and into the river or were still there.

I climbed into the creek and tried kicking up leaves and, sure enough, the first fish showed up in the net, a small eastern black nosed dace (Rhinichthys atratulus). It was tiny, and I didn't want tiny fragile fish in a new tank. So, I kept disturbing leaves and eventually, found more larger fish of the same species. I kept five of them for the tank. I moved from pool to pool disturbing rocks and leaves with my feet, but, no darters.

So, I decided to start turning over larger rocks with my hand. So, I rolled up my shirt sleeves and began to work. I turned over the rocks, used my other hand to scare anything underneath into my net, which leaned precariously against my leg. After a few rocks, finally, a beautiful male rainbow darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)showed up in my net!

I was so pumped, what a beautiful fish. I should have taken a picture then, but, my phone was in my jacket on the creek bank a few pools back. It was very dark, and his orange/red fins were stunning. I kept turning over rocks looking for a female companion for him.

After a few more rocks turned over, another darter showed up in the net. At first, I thought it was a female, but, on closer inspection, it was a different species. It was a fantail darter (Etheostoma flabellare). I tried for a while more, working down each pool with no more success on darters. I caught a sculpin, but released it, along with several more blacknose dace. Since daylight was ending, I called it quits, happy with what I caught. Not just happy, elated!

I took the fish home, stuck an airstone in the bucket and let it alone for about four hours, so the water temps would warm to room temperature in my basement, about 64 degrees. The creek was quite cold, so it took a while. I tested a few parameters of the creek water and they were very similar to those of my tank. After that, I netted the fish out of my bucket and released them into my tank.

Within an hour, the dace and fantail darters were exploring the tank. The rainbow darter hid and sulked for a long time, perhaps more than two hours before coming out to explore. I fed a few flakes to the dace, and they ate. I didn't expect the darters to eat the flakes, so, I tossed in some blackworms. The fantail darter ate some immediately, as did the dace. The rainbow darter had no interest in food yet.

Last night, I came home from a fishing trip and rushed downstairs to observe my new fish. All of the fish were happy, doing what they do. The darters explore every nook and cranny in the tank, hunting for food. I fed them flakes again first, thinking the dace would get full and not eat the worms. I learned that they are never full.

I dropped in some blackworm with a turkey baster, target feeding near the darters to make sure that they got at least one worm to eat, and that worked. Both darters ate them with gusto. Success! The fish are feeding already, and seem happy in their new environment. I marveled at the personality of both darters, and the brilliant coloration of the male, not yet in breeding colors, but still amazing that fish like that live so close to me.

I put together a video of the clips from the last two days, showing the tank with fish. I hope you enjoy it!


Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:27 am

I wound up collecting more fish from a local stream about 40 minutes from my house for my FW stream tank this past weekend. This small stream has been one of my favorite smallmouth bass fishing spots over the years. It has a wide diversity of fish species, as much as any stream in the Western part of Maryland.

There are a couple species that I still want, but, for the most part, it's fully stocked now. I also found a beautiful red rock that I just had to put into the tank. I'm trying to find at least one rock to add to the tank from each fish collecting site. This tank is a Potomac River biotope tank, minus major predators.

The species below are currently in this tank:

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)
Fantail Darter (Etheostoma flabellare)
Greenside Darter (Etheostoma blennioides)

Minnows, Shiners and Dace:
Eastern Blacknosed Dace (Rhinichthys atratulus)
Spottail Shiner (Notropis hudsonius))
Silverjaw Minnow (Notropis buccatus)
Longnose Dace (Rhinichthys cataractae)
River Chub (Nocomis micropogon)

Here's a short video of the tank and the new critters:

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Tue Nov 19, 2019 9:46 pm

Absolutely gorgeous job on your background and decor!!! The fish look fantastic and it really does look like a slice of the wild. Thank you so much for sharing and looking forward to updates on how the fish are doing.

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Wed Nov 20, 2019 8:29 am

Thank you so much Dee!!!

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:37 pm

Here's a video of the new fish in the tank, now that they're acclimated. They're all so bold, not afraid of me when I clean the tank. They even try to eat the hairs on my arm when I clean algae off of the glass. In this video, I feed them blackworms using a turkey baster. I fed the minnows and dace flakes first, so they wouldn't pig out on the worms. Some of the fish are starting to color up more as well. I had 24 minutes of video clips at first, so I had to trim off 14 minutes of it to keep it from being too long. It was tough cutting out some of the scenes for me. Heck, I stayed up way too late last night watching these fish as it was. I'm so addicted to this tank. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did making it.


Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Tue Dec 03, 2019 12:18 pm

Here's a video update from last night. The fish are a bit aggressive and excited, because I fed them a bunch of blackworms right before filming. They settled down quite a bit toward the end of the video. Also, I added a few new fish, some shiners and one more longnose dace. The new fish ate food less than one hour after I introduced them to the tank. Now, they seem to fit right in. I hope y'all like the video.


Thanks everyone for following along during this build. I will follow up with maybe a couple more posts in the future as this tank becomes fully stocked...almost there. But more importantly, to let you all know how the wall and roots hold up over time. Since the tank is not a Cichlid tank, I don't want to use up valuable resources too much on here. Many thanks to Steve C., Dee, and many others who chimed in during the build with comments, suggestions, and recommendations, and also for your posts over the years that helped me learn how to do a project like this. I'm forever grateful.

My fish room is becoming quite a fish room. I have an oyster reef blenny tank that I'm working on (going from my 20g long to a 100g cubish tank). It's a Chesapeake Bay biotope tank. I'm not sure what my next fish tank projects will be at this point. I'd love a huge SW Caribbean biotope tank with a queen angelfish as the centerpiece, but, that's an expensive venture and the tank of a lifetime. I've always wanted to keep orange chromides, so maybe I'll try a brackish cichlid tank next. If I do that, then I'll feel better about posting here more often, LOL. My first loves in the fish world were freshwater angelfish, and eventually, my more aggressive cichlid tank (firemouths and salvini's).

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Wed Jan 22, 2020 9:55 am

Time for an update. The roots and wall are holding up well. In the video and pics, you can see that a pinhole opened up a bit after my last algae cleaning, and some of the plaster leaked out. Apparently, I missed a spot when I applied the clear coat epoxy. It doesn't seem to affect anything and hasn't dissolved in the tank at all, as far as I can tell. The fish are doing well. I'm going to pull the roots out and plug the hole with epoxy or perhaps Gorilla Glue super glue. I have to pull everything out for a big cleaning anyway. Other than that, I thought that I might as well let you know how the tank is going along.

As you might suspect with a new tank, I had an algae invasion, or outbreak, or whatever it's called. It wasn't unexpected, especially given the high bioload. About two weeks ago, I also cleaned the algae off of the wall, roots and rocks, in addition to a large water change that I'll mention again below. I also cleaned the canister filter, being careful as to not hurt the biological filtering ability of the system. As you can see, it's back.

To combat the algae, I'll be performing another large water change this weekend, complete with more physical removal of the algae. I also planted Vallisneria americana to try and out compete the algae for nutrients. I think that will help, assuming the plants take to the tank. The lighting is adequate (Fluval planted light), along with plenty of nutrients with the heavy bioload, which should help the plants grow and thrive.

I lost a few fish since I stocked the tank, mostly some of the smaller blunt nosed minnows, although one hung in there and is growing. All of the adult fish, except for one black nosed dace, are doing fine. I had to battle ich, and that was the main reason for the fish deaths (4 total fish died). I treated them for three weeks with aquarium salt by raising the SG to 1.003. The ich seems gone and hasn't returned since I stopped treatment by making a 90% water change. The fish still scratch occasionally. I may try a treatment of Prazipro, thinking that they might have flukes that survived the salt treatment, or some sort of other unseen parasite. This leads me to a question...do fish still scratch at times when they are parasite free? Are they really ever parasite free?

Now for some pics followed by another video...

Full tank shot:

Left side, showing the faux roots and current sources (spray bar top left, and circulation pump located behind the roots):

Right side, showing the newly planted Vallisneria americana:

And, finally, a video showing everything and showcasing the fish:

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Sat May 09, 2020 6:07 pm

I shot this video of my stream tank with a slightly different angle. I'm really pleased how it looks, especially showing the current and surface agitation, giving the tank a pretty good representation of what a small stream shoreline eddy might be like... I hope y'all like it.


Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Sun May 10, 2020 8:20 am

I thought that I'd shoot some pics from different angles of the stream tank and share them with you. Sometimes, I like sitting on the floor to view this tank. I seem to get more up and close to the fish. Also, when viewing from the floor, this angle allows you to really see the flow and current in this tank, how similar it is to a shoreline stream eddy.

Left side looking through the roots...not a lot of room to see the other side of the tank. But, it's interesting when fish peek through the roots to see what you're doing.

This one is from the left side looking toward the other end of the tank:

Same angle, but focused on the tank center where the fish like to hang out the most:

Middle, looking back at the left side to the roots:

Looking back from the right front of the tank toward the roots on the left side:

And finally, a view from the right side through the Valisneria to the roots:

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Sun May 10, 2020 10:37 am

Really got that natural look going now that it has some algae developing on it :)

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Sun May 10, 2020 5:39 pm

Kevin, I loved the video showing both the flow, algae growth and the fish look fantastic!

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Mon May 11, 2020 8:39 am

Thank you Steve and Dee! I'm having a lot of fun with this tank.

The faux rock wall and faux roots are holding up nicely. I think that it's important to follow up over time so anyone that worries about this process can see that you can get results. One year with this build will be the milestone of durability. I don't anticipate any problems.

Thanks to you, Steve and some other folks on this forum that contributed DIY rock wall builds that provided a fantastic research base for me, and great suggestions in helping me figure out how to do this. You all are the pioneers that make it possible for everyone else. I really appreciate that.

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:39 am

I went fish collecting a couple weeks ago, and the fish that I collected went into QT for 2 weeks. I treated them with salt for the full period, and during the last 3 days, one dose of Prazipro. All of the minnows, shiners and dace collected survived QT OK and were added to the display tank yesterday.

I also collected 4 tessellated darters. One jumped out of the tank, one disappeared and I couldn't find it, and one died early on. The last one died the day before he was slated to go into the display tank, and was eating and apparently happy up until then. So, I'm bummed about that. I added 4 satinfin shiners, 3 blacknosed dace, and a bunch of bluntnose minnows to the tank. I also fished a local small stream for smallmouth bass on Sunday, and brought home some plants and snails. I collected wild Valisneria and water stargrass, and added those to my tank. I "cleaned" the plants with a mild hydrogen peroxide/water bath for 20 minutes. The snails just went into the tank,so I hope that I didn't introduce any villainous hitchhikers with them.

I found 2 species of snail, one very common one that looks like a pond snail. It seemed like if you looked at one section of chunk rock, you'd see over a hundred of those snails. The last time that I added snails like those, the darters in my tank hunted down and ate every single snail. This time, they seem to be ignoring the snails altogether. I also added a bunch of ramshorn snails. Maybe the darters will leave those alone because they are a bigger snail.

I got the snails to help with algae control and maybe as an additional food source for the darters. My stoneroller has done a nice job of keeping the tank pretty tidy, and he's getting big. I know he eats a lot of algae because I see him grazing often, and he poops out algae all the time. And, the plants that I had in there took off and I think that has had a huge influence.

I have a green sunfish in the tank as well, but his days are numbered in my tank. He's growing quickly, and seems to be starting to take interest in the minnows, and not in a kind way. It's almost a feeding response. In the past, since I got him, he merely chased fish away from his staked territory. Now, he has that evil eye toward the smaller minnows, dace and shiners. I will donate him to the local aquarium or give him away.

Anyway, below is my video tank update. Enjoy.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFbJgX1 ... NPh4AaABAg

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:26 pm

Great update Kevin!! The tank is looking great though I do miss the bright green of the algae growth in previous videos. The fish look awesome including the new additions though sorry about the loss of the tessellated darters.

Re: DIY Styrofoam/Drylok Aquarium Shale Wall Background

Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:37 pm

Thank you Dee! Yeah, I didn't mind a little bit of algae. I didn't do much other than add a couple new characters that love the algae more than I do (central stoneroller and live plants, and just lately, snails). It is amazing though, because every now and then, the algae makes a comeback, then, it dies back, and so on. I guess that is basically what happens when we try to create an ecosystem in a small glass box...instability and change, where we have to adapt.
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