How I Set Up My First Discus Fish Tank Aquarium

Why Keep Discus Fish?

I have always been interested in fish. I spent many an hour down by my local river as a child either with a cane, string and bent pin or a jam jar and bucket, or even just looking and enjoying the water and the life under the surface that you sometimes caught a glimpse of.

Boyhood fishing grew into a career in fish farming, or aquaculture and along the way I started to scuba dive. The fascination was always in fish.

More recently settling into a family life and commuting to my job in the city, the interest in fish and water would not go away. The scuba diving was fine for the occasional weekend, but the need to keep fish was ever strong. I was happy keeping goldfish in a garden pond and in an aquarium in the house until I visited an annual aquatics show one year.

I saw a tank containing a shoal of 8 or so side-plate sized fish, disk shaped fish bigger than a large man's hand - so impressive that I knew I had to have some! And yet, the price tag of $100 for each fish put me off from making an impulse purchase there and then. This was just as well as it allowed me to go away and plan my new discus keeping venture!

A group of different discus

Starting Out

I had a modest fish tank that was unused. It had formerly kept a few small goldfish until they outgrew the small tank and were introduced to my garden pond. The tank was probably just short of 100 litres in volume. I set it up with an airlift canister filter that I made myself out of a plastic food container that I stole from a kitchen cupboard, some gravel and an old air pump from my former set up.

I left the bottom of the tank bare to ensure that I could keep the tank scrupulously clean. Once the tank was up and running I popped out to my local fish shop and bought a single guppy which was introduced into the tank. I also bought a tank heater which was also put into the tanks and the temperature was slowly increased over the next few days to around 28 degrees C.

The poor little guppy was introduced to start adding a little bio-waste to my system in order to get the filter working.

The next stage was to source my discus. I had decided to buy juveniles in order to keep the cost down. 1 - 2 inch fish at around 8 weeks old or so could be bought for around $5 each at the time - but it meant travelling some 150 miles to a specialist breeder. If I had bought them locally - the cost would have been four times as much but more importantly, the quality would not have been so good.

I eagerly returned from my planned trip with 8 juvenile turquoise discus - though their color was more a dull silvery grey. From my reading I knew that the colour would start developing in a few weeks.

The fish seemed happy in their bare tank, though I soon introduced a potted water plant - Amazon Sword - to cheer up my brood. From the start I used frozen discus food obtained from my local pet store. However, the fish were avid eaters and I soon realised that the food bill would become too expensive. Therefore, I negotiated with my mother who lived not far away at the time to help me prepare my own diet from recipes found in the discus rearing guides. This involved buying a whole ox heart, laboriously cleaning off all the fat and connective tissue and then carefully mincing it up. To this was added binder, vitamins and greens (spinach and lettuce) and the whole mess pressed flat and frozen into thin slices. This allowed small pieces to be broken off at each feeding time.

The frozen beef heart mix was shaved into each tank, initially three times a day, but quickly dropping to once every morning - more because of my day job work routine. Every day the tank would be siphoned clean and the water replace with fresh from our rain but. natural rainwater is much softer than the tap water and much preferable for discus rearing.

The weeks went by and the fish flourished. Contrary to warnings in the aquatic magazines and books that I had read the fish were easy to keep and seemed to remain healthy and well. It was with amazement and wonder that one day, perhaps 5 or 6 months after buying the fish, I found a pair of them guarding something they had deposited on one of the walls of the tank. They had spawned!

The fish had reached a size of perhaps 4 inches and I had thought that they would need another 3 or 4 months to reach maturity. Obviously not in this case. I was very keen to breed the fish and already knew that the fish had outgrown their first home by a long way. That they flourished in such a small tank was probably because of the regular cleaning and water changes that they were receiving but the situation could not go on for much longer - it was time to move!

Discus are impressive in a planted aquarium

The Next Step

I had already seen that my brood of eight young fish had produced a breeding pair and I was optimistic that some of the others would bond also. I wanted to build a discus fish breeding hatchery in my garage and perhaps this could lead to a profitable commercial discus breeding venture?

Although the market for discus may not be as large as say the koi carp market - it is equally widespread geographically. It is a pretty big niche business and as I have seen in shops generally the cost of small "just coloured" fish is generally in the $30 to $50 range. In Asia, the USA and Germany there are some impressively scaled discus hatcheries, with hundreds of breeding pairs each - even without any published figures of the scale of the industry it does seem that the market is buoyant and has potential.

Cautionary ending!

With a couple of broods coming along nicely, and eggs being laid by new pairs, things seemed to be going well. The fish were flourishing in tap water that had been left to stand mixed with available rainwater - the whole mix used to refresh the recirculation system every time the tanks were siphoned off of waste food and excrement each day.

Then one day without warning the local water authorities decided to flush their pipes with some form of algae remover or disinfectant. Sad to say that this very mild treatment which human customers wouldn't even notice caused the fish great stress and apart from two they all eventually died. The two that survived never bred again. Had we known about the flushing, which the water authority admitted to when contacted, we could have stopped using tap water for the duration.

However, discus rearing advice generally will tell you to use treated water and watch the quality of any tap water used. In future I will still use tap water and rain water mixed - but I will buy a reverse osmosis, carbon and micro filter unit before I start. Or perhaps I will try to build one myself - now there is an idea for a project (and an associated Hub!).

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Comments 4 comments

salim 6 years ago

I have a new tank running for discus just clean tap water what do you recommend i do to get my water rite soft and acidic


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Mark Jenner 5 years ago Author

Depends on the quality of your tap water to start with but I would always be happier filtering using Reverse Osmosis and a carbon filter.


Barbara 18 months ago

I have a new tank set up and I am using natural spring water. What are your thoughts?


Rajarshi. 18 months ago

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