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If I use a sponge filter, can I keep the sponge sitting in the overflow section of my wet/dry filter in my main tank so it will have the bacteria on it ready to go?
Yes, but best if you can run some air through it rather than just sitting them in there.

How large should it be?
10's work for most fish, but depends on the potential fish load.

Do I need substrate and all the other trimmings that would go into a regular setup
Some cover is good, but I wouldn't worry about the substrate, or just go with a very fine layer to cover the bottom.
 
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