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Catching Aquarium Fish

Netting Fish in Your Home or Office Aquarium

(The First Tank Guide)

Sooner or later you will come across a reason to have to catch a fish that is in your fish tank. This may be because there is an injured or ill fish that needs to be put in isolation in a quarantine tank for treatment or recovery, to remove an aggressor or a fish that is being bullied, to move fish between tanks, to sell or trade a fish, or for any of a number of other reasons.

When you go to catch a fish, you will quickly discover that there are some tricks to this - and that netting fish in an aquarium is definitely an art form requiring skill and patience. "Catching fish in a barrel" isn't quite as easy as you might initially believe.

Using the Fish Net

As I mentioned above, there is definitely an art to using a fish net to efficiently catch a fish in a fish tank. Some of this can be explained, but other aspects of using a fish net will really just take patience and practice.

Probably the most important thing to remember when you are using the fish net is to try to move the net slowly. Slow movement of the net will be less startling to the fish and will increase your chances of the fish staying near the net, while moving the net around the tank quickly startles the fish and encourages them all to hide. Also, when the net is moving quickly through the water, it does form a "bow wake" or "bow wave" which can actually push the fish away from the opening of the net.

Contrary to this, when you have the fish in, or nearly in, the fish net, a quick motion can help to get the fish into the net before the fish can get away - just remember the fast movements will startle other fish in the fish tank into hiding and sustained fast movements will push fish away from the opening of the net.

Using Two Fish Nets

One method which many people are able to use to great success, especially when trying to catch a particularly timid fish or when trying to catch a fish in a heavily decorated tank, is to use two fish nets.

You will want one large(r) fish net and one smaller fish net. Place the larger fish net in a fixed location in the tank, but keep your hand on the handle. If you know that the fish you want to catch is not in his favorite hiding place, you may want to block the entrance to this favorite place with the stationary net.

You can then use the second, smaller net to carefully herd the fish you want to catch into the stationary net. Even if the stationary net is not covering the entrance to a favorite hiding place, the fish may see the larger net as a viable place to hide from the smaller net.

When the fish enters the larger net, close the net (see below) and lift the fish out of the tank. Of course, if you do have the opportunity to actually catch the desired fish in the smaller fish net, there is no reason not to.

Removing Aquarium Decorations

Depending on the fish being caught, the amount and type of aquarium decorations in the fish tank, the population of the aquarium ad a variety of other factors, it may be necessary to remove aquarium decorations in order to catch your fish.

You may just want to start by removing any large, in the way decorations from the tank, as well as any items that may get caught on the net and prevent you from removing the net from the tank in a smooth motion once you catch your fish. Alternately, you may want to leave the decorations in the tank until something starts to get in the way - just remember what caused problems so that next time you can remove those items initially and save yourself some time.

Closing the Fish Net

One of the tricks to catching fish from your aquarium successfully is knowing how to close a fish net. It is really simple, but unfortunately not very obvious.

To close the fish net, simply pull up on the handle of the net, keeping the handle vertical (straight up and down). This will close the fish net as the fabric of the net (especially with a fish in it) rises more slowly than the handle, and the filled net curls under the bottom of the net frame. However, you need to keep drawing the net up until the frame of the fish net clears the water. If you stop pulling the net up, then the fabric - the net material - will relax again, and allow the fish to swim out.

Handling the Fish While in the Fish Net

Once the fish is out of the fish tank, you will want to get him back into water as soon as possible. But you also want to keep him from flopping or jumping out of the net.

To address the former of these two issues, you want to have whatever you are using for transport prepared before you start trying to catch the fish. Whether that is a bucket, bag, or another aquarium, make sure it is ready and very accessible to the fish tank you are catching the fish from.

For the former, you want to make sure that both hands are wet with aquarium water before you catch the fish. Once the fish in in the fish net, use your hand to cup the net and hold the fabric closed - preferably without your hand ever actually touching the fish - so that the fish can't flop out of the net.

Caution with a Fish Net

There are also some warnings about using a fish net.

First, remember your own safety. If you are catching a fish with sharp teeth, strong jaws, sharp or venomous fins, or that could harm you in other ways, always bear that in mind. Remember that a fish that can bite off a finger should never be held. You will have to rely on the net to support them - and that means having the bucket you are moving them into that much closer to the aquarium you are catching them from. Similarly if a fish can sting you, whether that sting is just a nuisance, incapacitating, or deadly, you need to not hold that fish.

You need to also consider the safety of the fish. Some fish have rigid spines in their dorsal, anal, pelvic or pectoral fins - or at the base of their tail, in their gills, or under their eyes that can get caught in a net. You may be best off using a specimen container to catch these fish rather than a net, just to prevent injury to the fish. Similarly, some fish can get their teeth or barbels caught in a net and you should use caution when netting these fish or use another means to catch them.

Finally, consider risk to your equipment when catching a fish. Especially with larger fish there is a risk that an aquarium filter, fish tank heater, aquarium light, aquarium cover, or even the fish tank itself could be damaged in the process of catching the fish. Depending on what is damaged and how, that could be merely an inconvenience or it could mean a lot of damage, risk or injury to yourself, and maybe needing to get replacement equipment right away.

Remember, it is always important to use caution and care when catching a fish from your home fish tank.

"Thank you for your excellent response. I will do what you suggested."
October 10, 2002
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"Thank you for taking the time to write me. That was great advise. I went out and bought a 46 gallon bowed tank. We love it and the fish seem to really enjoy it. I am going to bookmark your web page not only because of the great information but you seem to want to help us new fish keepers and our new fish!"
June 30, 2002
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