Freshwater fish tanks are an important part of the broader aquarium hobby with an estimated ten times as many freshwater aquariums as reef tanks around the world. Most of us started out in the aquarium hobby by keeping goldfish, tetras, guppies or cichlids and have fond memories of keeping and breeding these common and hardy fish.
While it’s easy to think of our freshie friends as mostly a stepping stone to the higher echelons of reef keeping, the planted side of the aquarium hobby is light years ahead when it comes to applying aquascaping principles to creating jaw dropping aquarium displays. Personally we might be mostly focused on the saltwater side of the aquarium hobby yet we’ve always kept a few freshwater tanks with some of our favorite fishes and recently we started planning a ‘freshwater reef’ tank which incorporates many of the tricks and features that are common in medium to large saltwater aquariums.
This aquarium was intended to be a nice showcase for a group of wild altum angelfish, Pterophyllum altum, which are blessed with very tall dorsal and anal fins and we wanted a matching vertically enhanced aquarium to display these prized cichlids to their full potential. With a specific placement in mind in the Reef Builders Studio we wanted a particular sized aquarium that would match the width and height or our existing peninsula reef tanks so we reached out to Custom Aquariums to help build us a custom aquarium.
Since we wanted a taller tank at a specific height we worked with Custom Aquariums to also design an aquarium stand of a shorter stature with some modern touches to the glass box such as an external overflow box for the drain, high clarity glass and a rimless design for maximum aesthetic appeal. Once we received the tank and stand pairing we began planning out how we could make this freshwater fish display more like a reef tank with a sump underneath the tank, a controllable DC pump for the return water flow, a continuous siphon drain leading into a ClariSea Gen3 automatic filter roll – and of course we installed a mechanical float valve for automatic replenishment of evaporated water.
Because we used a sizable 40 gallon breeder tank as the sump we had more than enough room to do something tricky with the extra space so we glued in a partition to also create a kind of freshwater refugium giving us a secondary 25 gallon display to take advantage of the pretty robust filtration already present. We documented the entire build process in video to illustrate some of the fundamentals of plumbing a sump-filtered aquarium which applies equally to fresh or saltwater aquariums and now that the hardware is completely assembled we are eager to get this tank up and running.
Thankfully we had the foresight to erect a little ‘biofarm’ – a freshwater trick using biological media and aeration that has been continually supplied with a few drops of ammonia to kickstart and complete the nitrification cycle before the tank is even filled with water. Our gratitude goes out to Custom Aquariums for supporting this freshwater reef aquarium/high tech fish tank build which already illustrates a range of crossover principles which we hope will inform our fresh and saltwater aquarium community at large.