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I just wrote the following to a question posted about at home bait tank filtration on the South Carolina thread. I thought that I should post it here as well and hopefully it will help out some of you guys in the future.


To start off, you are going to need 2 forms of filtration to have a successful at home tank and ill do my best to describe each.

1. Mechanical Filtration-
That is the filtering of things that get in your water from the outside, the food, and the fish themselves. This sort of filtering can be accomplished by any number of do it yourself projects that result in the water in your tank being sent through some physical filter material to remove progressively smaller and smaller particles the closer to your pump. Sample filter media can be anything from the "find something to make it work" materials like pillow stuffing, to commercially produced aquarium activated charcoal filter stuff. You are going to want some coarse filtering (scales sticks etc) down to fine particulate filtering before your water hits whatever pump you are gonna use.


2. Biological Filtration- AKA The part where most everyone screws up.
Fish produce ammonia. The problem with ammonia is that it is poison. It comes from predominately from their waste and decomposition of any biological material in the water. A large source can be from uneaten food. The solution to the ammonia creation problem is found in naturally occurring ammonia feeding bacteria. These bacteria turn ammonia from a poisonous state into a harmless state. Another bacteria turns this harmless ammonia into phospates- basically fertilizer. Too much phosphates can harm fish, so you should still change out a portion of you tank's water every now and then. Use the phosphate laden water to water your garden for some crazy results.

So, in order to turn your poisonous water into basically fertalizer, you are gonna need to start bacteria creation in your tank BEFORE YOU PUT A BIG LOAD OF FISH INTO IT. These bacteria can come from the water where you caught the fish, however, so can a lot of other things that you dont want like super fine slime that will grow all over everything. I would rather start a system with tap water that has been de-chlorinated (you can buy products to do this at a pet shop) or well water. You are going to need to feed the tank things that will produce ammonia before anything alive goes into it. This might sound tedious, but if you want to actually keep fish alive for more than a day or two you have to do it. If you have a large tank planned, you could plant only a few fish in the tank to start it off. I would not put more than 1 small fish per 25 gallons to jump start.

In order to keep a tank full of fish you are going to have to have a high enough concentration of bacteria to filter all the ammonia produced. The biggest mistake people make is to just dump a load of hundreds of fish into a new system. The ammonia spikes and all the fish die within a day or two. Bummer. You are going to have to work the bacteria levels to a range that will eat all of the ammonia a big load of baitfish will produce before it gets to a toxic level. The bad news is that baitfish like shad and bluegills are champion ammonia producers.

IF YOU ONLY REMEMBER ONE THING ABOUT THIS POST PLEASE LET THIS BE IT- If you want to have a bait tank you are also going to have to have a bacteria farm. You need to think of the bacteria when you do things like remove all the fish from your system. KEEP FEEDING YOUR TANK. Put fish food into it. Put dog food into it. Pee into it. Whatever you do just add some stuff that will produce ammonia when there are no fish to do it. If there is nothing producing ammonia in the tank, the bacteria numbers will decline. If you remove the fish and don't feed the tank or worse drain it, the next load of fish will almost certainly die because the population of bacteria will decrease to a point where it will not be able to keep up with the ammonia production of a crowded tank.

The bacteria grows extremely fast if it has 1. a moist place to call home 2. ammonia to eat and 3. high levels of dissolved oxygen to breathe. You can help your bacteria with a good place to live if you add an area to your mechanical filter that will act sort of like a bacteria high rise apartment. This bio filter area should include porous materials that the water passes through after it has gone through your mechanical filtration. The bacteria will live on any surface that the water in your tank keeps wet. However, if you use the the right kind of materials you can grow many 100s of times the bacteria per square inch. There are a lot of commercially available things that are made with microscopic texture to allow more bacteria per square inch and the best place to find them is your local pet store. Of course you could go see what the "bio filter media" look in the store and then go find your own to use. Most anything will work, but some things work better than others. The key is establishing an area where high concentrations of the bacteria can attach themselves that has oxygenated ammonia-tainted water flowing over/through it. They do not need light. Your mechanical filter will provide a lot of area for the bacteria to live, but if you want to heavily load your tank, you should consider a supplemental bacteria zone. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR FILTERS OR TANK WITH CHLORINATED WATER or let your tank dry out or run out of ammonia or you will have to start over.

After a time of feeding your tank organic things that are breaking down, or starting with a very small number of fish, you can start stocking your tank. Honestly it is much better to add a few at a time until you get up to the numbers you would like to have. Testing your bacteria growth by dumping a whole ton at once might not work out well. There is a maximum load of fish any tank will be able to keep alive. If you have adequate mechanical filtration and oxygenation a very very crude guideline is 1 inch of fish per gallon of water max. You could probably have success right at max load, or even more if you have crazy filtration, but it really is best to not overdo it. Make two tanks if you really need to have 300 baitfish on hand :)


If you add your fish and they start dying or become really crappy looking, do a large water change of chlorine free water. Your bacteria levels might be low. In extreme cases, you might need to do water changes for many days if your bacteria levels were critically low/non existent.

Well hopefully this will help you avoid the typical mistake of overloading and poisoning your fish.

Flatline out.
 

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Great post, especially this bit:
IF YOU ONLY REMEMBER ONE THING ABOUT THIS POST PLEASE LET THIS BE IT- If you want to have a bait tank you are also going to have to have a bacteria farm. You need to think of the bacteria when you do things like remove all the fish from your system. KEEP FEEDING YOUR TANK. Put fish food into it. Put dog food into it. Pee into it. Whatever you do just add some stuff that will produce ammonia when there are no fish to do it. If there is nothing producing ammonia in the tank, the bacteria numbers will decline. If you remove the fish and don't feed the tank or worse drain it, the next load of fish will almost certainly die because the population of bacteria will decrease to a point where it will not be able to keep up with the ammonia production of a crowded tank.
So many people don't understand that you can't just fill a tank and dump in a load of bait in it....well you can but chances are they won't last long...W
 
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