Newbie Stocking Plans and Newbie Mistakes - We've All Been There!


Broke Reefer!
There are a lot of new people around and starting up tanks, which is wonderful - welcome! And a lot of new tanks and stocking plans gone wrong! So I thought it would be helpful to start a thread (maybe it could be a sticky) where we can share the early thoughts we had about stocking our tanks before we learned what we could *really* keep in our tanks successfully, and some of the awful mistakes we've all made early on. We've all been there, wanting and thinking we can keep something that we can't, learning the hard way, making mistakes we won't repeat, etc. I thought it might help other new people to hear our stories! :Cheers:

What were your first totally unrealistic stocking plans, stocking tries, and newbie mistakes?
I'll go first!

When I first started my tank and started doing research, I planned to add the following fish to my 90g :shock:

Emperor Angel
Copperband Butterfly
Powder Blue Tang
Moorish Idol
Pink-tailed triggerfish

What was I thinking?! A petco employee told me he thought that my tank might be too small for the emperor, but I was convinced if it was a juvenile it would be fine :rofl: But thankfully it also led me to start really researching the fish I wanted more, and I quickly learned that the emperor was out, that I'd likely never succeed at keeping a moorish idol or copperband alive, and that the powder blue and pink-tailed trigger needed more room than I could provide. I still love all of these fish, and would absolutely love to have a tank with them swimming around together, but I don't think it will ever happen, and certainly not in my 90!

I think the biggest newbie mistake I made was trying to quarantine my plating monti - it started to get a white ring around the edge (which I thought meant it was bleaching, but now I realize meant it was growing) and I saw what I still think were montipora eating nudibranchs on it. Instead of taking the safer route and dipping it in coral rx every few days, I moved it to a 5g quarantine tank and put it under a small white LED refugium light. I failed to do enough research to learn that the LED was a 6500K bulb, and my monti lost all of its color within 3 days. I've had to frag off about half of the coral and while it has amazingly regained its coloring on about 2/3 of it, I don't think it will ever be the beautiful specimen it was when I purchased it. From now on, I will always try to take the more conservative route than rushing in to a treatment plan that I can easily screw up and kill something instead!
I don't have any specifics, but I do have one thing to say, and it may sound harsh so I apologize if it comes off that way:



If you research a fish and you find it's "expert only", and you ask on here or other sites about this fish you have your heart set on, and you have multiple people tell you that the fish is very difficult to keep, you should pass on it, don't even attempt it, remember that you are not different than anyone else that has tried to keep this fish and has failed.

If you think that you just might get lucky, the fish will do fine for you, and you are willing to take that chance, remember that's not the case.

Moorish idols are a great example. Because of "Finding Nemo" we had a lot of people coming on here saying they wanted to get a moorish idol. Do five minutes of research on them, and you will realize this fish is not realistic for 99% of the people in this hobby -- not even the vast majority of so-called "experts" with years of experience are willing or able to keep a moorish idol healthy and happy. Yet inevitably people will still buy them thinking they are different, or they are special, that everyone else must've been doing something wrong, that they can be the lucky one that is able to keep this fish alive.

Not true. YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL. The moorish idol is going to die in your tank just like it dies in everyone else's tanks.

So that's what I mean by that. I just see all to often good advice on this site being dismissed because people think that for some reason they will have a different experience with a difficult animal than everyone else has experienced.

If everyone tells you that the powder blue tang is very susceptible to ich and not a good idea for your 55, but you do it anyways because you think you are lucky, you are different, you are special and you are hopeful that this fish will be just fine in your tank, you are wrong. Fish is gonna die. :mrgreen:

Or how about if those irresistible seahorses would be so cute in your mixed reef, and even though you've been told that they don't do well with aggressive fish, you think that your experience is going to be different, your seahorses are going to do just fine with your other fish, because you are different and you will have better luck than everyone else. You are wrong about that. Sayonara, seahorses. :mrgreen:

Or you want to put that hippo tang in your 29 gallon? You think it's okay because it's small, even though all the research you've done tells you otherwise, and the knowledgeable people you've asked tell you it's a bad idea, but you do it anyways because you think that your situation is different than everyone else's? Ehhh. Wrong. You are not special. Your situation is not different. You are not luckier than anyone else that has tried and failed. You do not have some sort of magical ability that will allow you to keep big fish in a small tank. Acknowledge it, admit it, accept it; accept that tangs just aren't meant for a 29 gallon tank, and find a better fish for your tank.

That's my rant. I hope that wasn't too off-track. :rofl:
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Bifferwine couldnt have said it any better!

I just want to add:
Damsels are not nice additions to a new tank, no matter how cheap they are or how scared you are of putting living things in your tank for the first time. They will become nasty, and removing them is a terrible experience.

And be realistic about the tank you have now, not the tank you will have in the future. Many people people plan to get huge tanks, very few do because of the costs, but they bought a fish for that big tank and now that poor fish is stuck there.

Also, success with a tank or fish isnt measured in months. Keeping a fish alive for a few months or a year isnt good at all, success is keeping fish for at least 5+ years, and many can live a decade or more.

Make lists of fish before you buy them. Then research about them that way you dont get caught making impulse buys that end in disaster. Before I even got my tank, I had research hundreds of different fish I was interested in and then made a list of fish that would work and I liked. But, i never ended up buying any of those fish on my list! However, i knew a lot about other fish that would do well in my tank, so I was still covered and could make smart choices.

Lastly, be picky about the fish you buy!!!!! Never ever buy a fish you think looks ify, the stress of moving to a new tank and being introduced to there can often put a sick fish over the edge. Never let a store employee try and sell you a particular fish. Always make sure that they are eating BEFORE you buy them, any good LFS will feed the fish upon request and if they dont, something is wrong. Fish will eat any time you put food in the tank if they are healthy, even if they just ate moments before. Spend some time observing your fish, are their eyes bright and clear? Are they swimming around and are they aware of their surroundings?
It doesn't matter how small that tang is, it doesn't belong in your 55. Period

Seriously though - research, research and then some more research. Take anything a fish store gives you with a very large grain of salt, it is their goal to move livestock as quickly as possible with as little overhead as possible, so sure, they'll tell you that hippo will be fine in your 29. What they didn't tell you was that they meant that it would be fine for a few weeks, until the ich sets in because your tank is too small. Reserach online and find a credible group of hobbyists (such as the fine folks that frequent this forum) to make sure the information you have is reliable and accurate
Oh, stocking mistakes? I've made a few! I impulse bought a scooter blenny. Stupid. I spend HOURS AND HOURS researching and I buy a fish I know nothing about? Really? AND I wish they would call the darn things what they really are, a dragonet. In spite of the pods I hastily added to the tank for him, he didn't made it past 2 weeks in my tank. Let's see, what else, OH, I TOTALLY ignored Hannah's (Little Fish's) advice to others about sand sifting gobies and added one, a sleeper goby. He was my favorite fish. Until he ate everything from the sand and starved.
AND Biff I LOVE your comment, "you are not special." It's what we all must repeat to ourselves as we eye those fish we covet but KNOW via research that we cannot support. I feel like that should be the Living Reef's motto. Too many times we think, oh, that rule doesn't apply to me OR it'll be different in my tank. It does and it won't.
I'm still pretty much a newbie still, but I'll share my 200 dollar mistake(maybe even more, I lost count).
Within a couple days of setting my tank up I added the following all within a few weeks:
Blue Damsel
Stripe Damsel
Chocolate Chip Starfish
Bursa Trigger
Snowflake Eel
Yellow Chromis
Marron Clown
Condy Anemome
Volitan Lionfish
A few various snails and hermit crabs
This was my first kill after the bathroom cleaner incident.
My second stocking attempt began a couple weeks after that and consisted of all Damsels:
2 Striped
2 yellow tail
2 Blue- one of these guys is what made me realize Damsels are $#@#'s. One was in there about a week by himself before the others came and he thought the whole 55 gallons belonged to him.
That was my second crash when the Ammonia spiked.

I think if we had a contest for the biggest mistakes LOL I would win! So getting my tank to finally cycle after all of that seemed like forever because my Ammonia was stuck at 8.0 for a couple weeks before the cycle could catch up. And through all of my stupidity, all I had going was a canister.
Zack, my know it all 14 year old, still thinks HE IS SPECIAL. LOL. Some things he listens to me and others he will just argue. Mama Amy is running the show now I tell him because It's my money. I just shake my head at him and tell him he should write a book on how all the other people who have wrote books and articles on aquariums after years of research and experience are wrong. Maybe he could title it "I'm Special".
Zack, my know it all 14 year old, still thinks HE IS SPECIAL. LOL. Some things he listens to me and others he will just argue. Mama Amy is running the show now I tell him because It's my money. I just shake my head at him and tell him he should write a book on how all the other people who have wrote books and articles on aquariums after years of research and experience are wrong. Maybe he could title it "I'm Special".

Hahaha! We have all been there and done that! I added a powder brown tang to my tank, which had been established and set up for years, even though I should have known better. The fish lasted for a few months but of course eventually got ich and died. No one is special -- not even me! :rofl:
About powder tangs...what if you qt them FOREVER and add them to a VERY LARGE and VERY MATURE tank. Would they possibly (key word) survive?
My biggest mistake was trying to get a BTA to split in my old 75. That thing never did split and grew to take half the tank.Then one night I decided to just adjust a power head a TINY little bit.Next morning $1000 worth a SPS colonies were nothing but white sticks.

I had a pic of the nem in that 75 but cant find it now.
If the LFS asks which fish do you want? Look for the name first, dont just say the orange one. I thought he put the Flame Angel in the bag not the pacific pearlscale butterfly. I got home and acclimated it thinking it was gray due to stress from the 45 min drive. The next day it was looking better but only the back was orange so i got my books out. Duh there it was in the book. Maybe i should not post this lol. But triggers in a 32 beat me lol. Oh, and i never saw the fish again it just vanished in the tank.
Marty the lionfish vs cleaner and peppermints. Nuff said lol. Oh and the bf went against my wishes and bought a tiny little cleaner shrimp for his tank. I think hawkles the hawkfish enjoyed him very much. lol poor little booger
"Semi-aggressive" fish can kill!

Also, water quality is important for fish too not just corals. Some fish can handle high nitrates and some cannot.
When I first started out, I thought the freshwater rules applied to saltwater. As in gallons = inches of fish. And that peaceful meant they would get along with anything else you put in there. So I had planned to add 6 or 7 gobies, 4-5 dottybacks, 3-4 basslets, 4-5 dwarf angels, and I don't even remember what else. But I ended up with a list of like 30-40 fish in a 50 gallon tank. Thankfully, I came here before my tank was even three days into my cycle. The folks here were like "WHOA! Slow down! Do your research! And you're going to be limited to 5 fish, so choose wisely!" Best advice I've received to date. So fortunately, the worst mistake of my reefing experience never actually happened. But if I hadn't come here, it just might have.......
Well, I started very well. Then got my first clownfish after cycling with live rock and a cuc for 3 months or so. Few weeks later my wifey thought a sleeper goby was pretty so I let her get it. $40 was gone in 3 days. About a month later I bought another clown (who I found out now was likely diseased to begin with, despite looking and acting really healthy) and he died within about 2 weeks, giving Chloe what he had.

Then thinking she was acting depressed, not ill (which I still stick by depression, not physical illness, even after conversing for almost 20 minutes with a very experienced reefer - but as Sarah said, I'm not special...) I bought another clown. That was a mistake because he was clearly not the healthiest, but it was kind of impulsive because he had nice markings. He was gone last night within 4 hours and Chloe passed on this morning.

Plan: No more fish for 3-4 months, then quarantining everything with Lifeguard as recommended by Dale at Petco, whom I actually trust. With good reason, too.
Few weeks later my wifey thought a sleeper goby was pretty so I let her get it. $40 was gone in 3 days.

Oooh! I've done this one! Don't get a fish that's a notorious jumper unless you have a screen for your tank.

In my old 240, I bought two diamond gobies in a row. The first one jumped out of the tank the first night I had him. So of course, instead of fixing the obvious problem, I went right back to the store and bought a second one. Because THIS ONE WILL BE DIFFERENT! THIS ONE WILL BE SPECIAL THAN ALL THE OTHER GOBIES THAT HAVE LEAPED TO THEIR DEATHS! :rofl: Right. The second goby jumped out of the tank the first night I had him. Unfortunately, it took these two dead fish for stubborn me to learn my lesson -- I was not special either. :( I made a screen top for my tank, but never got another diamond goby. I hated those things at that point! I posthumously named the two suicidal gobies Tard and Retard (get it -- Re -- like a do-over? Haha).
Mine actually died in my tank...I'm just flabbergasted at the deaths...those two clowns, though, I'm pretty sure actually had something. The latter of which I think the move from the store to my tank just pushed him too far...