Choosing Fish For Your Freshwater Aquariums

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Ready to Add Your Fish?

OK then, you have your freshwater aquarium set up, filters are running, water temperature is 76°, lights are on . . . . and now your ready for your fish!  But wait . . . are you sure about that? It is important that you decide exactly what species of freshwater fish you want before stocking your aquarium!

Are you wanting a group of active fish, or perhaps ones with really bright colors.  Maybe you prefer to have 2 or 3 large fish, or 15 to 20 tiny fish.  Do you want all the same type of fish, or lots of different ones?

It is important that you decide exactly what species of freshwater fish you want before stocking your aquarium.

There are fish that are not compatible with each other . . . that’s right . . . some fish consider fellow tank mates dinner, others think the tank should belong to them alone and proceed to ‘rearrange’ the population!

Research can save lives!

Research really is not all that difficult and it can be fun.  I suggest starting with a well stocked fish supply store. You will usually find that the staff can answer most of your questions and help you choose the right fish species that will cohabit peacefully in your tank.

Choosing Your Favorite Fish Store

If there is an aquarium store available to you that specializes in freshwater fish, it is best to start there.  The staff will be more knowledgeable and often the prices are better as they are purchasing in larger bulk.  They will also have a larger selection to choose from.

Make sure to look closely at the fish in the tanks.  Ask yourself if the tanks are clean, is the water clear, are the fish active and brightly colored?  Are the store personnel responsive and enthusiastic to your inquiries?  If you find that there is a high percentage of dead, dying or sickly looking fish in the tanks, this may not be the store for you!

Once you find a good store, browse the fish and make a note of which ones catch your eye.  Write down the name of the fish, its adult size, temperament, tank range, pH range, water temperature, and food preferences.  These are all critical points to consider when buying your fish and most stores will have an information card posted at each tank telling you a little bit about the fish.


Most fish available at the store are juveniles and will be a fraction of their adult size.  It is important to consider how big they will grow as it won’t be a happy day when the ten quarter sized angelfish you put in your 10 gallon aquarium increase in size 4 fold!

pH and Temperature

All fish have an optimum temperature and pH range that will overlap, however there are a few freshwater aquarium fish who are at one extreme or the other.  It is important that you don’t choose one of those unless you plan on catering to their specific environmental requirements.


This is probably the biggest concern of any aquarium enthusiast.  Fish are rated as:

Community– gets along with everyone

Boisterous – gets along with other boisterous fish

Single – gets along with no one!

Understanding the aggression level of your fish will prevent future tank wars that can result in serious injury, including death.

Tank Range

There are fish that reside on the bottom of your tank and those who prefer the middle. Others want the top and then there are those who are everywhere.  For a mixed species aquarium, selecting fish from each group will provide more entertainment for the viewers . . . there will always be something going on!

Now that you have your list put together, take it home, sort your picks, cross reference the information the staff gave you and make your selections.

We All Love Food

Here is one thing that some people just don’t take into consideration when making choices for community freshwater aquariums.  Some fish eat at the top of the tank, others dine at the bottom.  An overly aggressive top feeder can deprive your bottom fish of its meal.

Striving to match the dietary needs of your tank will have positive results, the occupants will live longer and be brighter in color (less stress = happy fish).

As to the variety of foods available today, consider that fish are just like people, anyone would get tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after a while.  Mix and match, keep them entertained.

For choices, there are brine shrimp, cyclops, daphnia, earthworms, meal worms, mosquito larvae, tubifex worms, and white worms, to name a few; they come in frozen, freeze-dried, dried and live; flaked, crumbled and in pellets.  You can cultivate your own, pick it up at the fish store, or even find it in the garden . . . you can even teach your plecostomus to do tricks for a slice of zucchini!

Feeding your fish is one of the highlights for aquatic hobbyists; get a variety of foods, sit back, and enjoy the show.


A word of caution here – there are several species of freshwater aquarium fish that are prolific breeders!  Load up your new tank with live bearing molly’s and platy’s and you will have babies within the month, especially if you have plants in your aquarium.

Your aquarium store personnel can tell you which species to avoid unless you want to be in the fish breeding business!  Some stores will even trade food or supplies for your baby fish (fry), but you want to ask up front before, not after, you have a 100 or so fry swimming around.

The Worst Thing You Can Do

Sadly, many owners just run out and pick every exotic looking fish that catches their eye, drop them in their freshwater aquarium, and then hope for the best.  This usually ends in disaster so do your research, take your time, and you will end up a beautiful aquarium filled with happy and healthy freshwater fish for a very long time. When you have a beta fish, check out our 5 gallon fish tank for beta section for other interesting information about fish Aquarium buying guide and setup.

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