10 fish to keep before you die

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So the world didn't end like the Mayan calendar said it would, but what if you knew when your time was up? And if you could get hold of them, what would you keep? Jeremy Gay offers his top ten choices.


Altum angel (picture by Jeff Kubina, Creative Commons)

There are angelfish and then there Altum angelfish, and I think they’re amazing.

Their size and shape and their grace does a lot to pull me in, and years ago they were my nemesis because every time I bought juveniles they died.

Heiko Bleher told me some fascinating facts about their collection though, which makes them so frail when they come in. Three populations are collected from three different habitats, with different water conditions, and are then all dumped together in Bogotá in water as cold as 15°C for days. Males are also surprisingly aggressive.

Thankfully some tank breds are now arriving in the UK and if I ever have an 8’ x 3’ tank and lots of spare cash I’ll be giving them another try.

Leafy sea dragon (Picture by Derek Ramsey, Creative Commons)

We’re talking in my dreams here, and I’m not for one moment suggesting people should go out and get one, but what a fish, and I love the habitat they come from, with all the swaying seaweed.

Show me some in their natural habitat and I’m transfixed, watching the way the Leafy sea dragon hovers over the macro algae, then occasionally is picked up by the water and just moved to several feet away. A select few public aquariums have them and Monterey Bay have bred the similar Weedy seadragons, so who knows what we’ll be capable of as hobbyists in say 30 years time?

Crenicichla sp. Xingu III (picture by tangledupincichlids.com)

Most pictures don’t do this species justice as only the shots of the jet-black female with crimson red bellyband are the money shots, and are hard to get hold of.

As a cichlid fancier this was one of those Holy Grail species that you saw in books but could never get hold of.

I’ve still not seen one in the flesh although Jeff Rapps has had them for sale (so UK import is not totally out of the question). If you’ve got some in the UK let me know – I’d love to see them and a bit like bird spotting, I’d be able to cross them off my list. Keeping a pair would be even better.

Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys (picture by Ad Konings)

Another Holy Grail cichlid, with a fascination that started from seeing pictures of mature coloured-up fish. If you don’t what a decent G. gymnogenys looks like Google it, as that nuchal head hump can develop into something surprisingly square-shaped. Add the red colouration, low temperature requirements of the genus and the fact that I’ve never seen or got to keep a live one, and these are high on my list of must keeps before I die.

Channa orientalis

My love of this dwarf snakehead species started years ago, again from a picture in a book, and some rather large fry accompanied this one. Channa bleheri came on the scene, a more colourful fish, and many fish imported as C. orientalis turned out to be the less valued C.gachua but when I collected fish in Sri Lanka I was lucky enough to explore the natural habitat of the fish I once viewed in a book and actually to catch some. They were put back of course, but knowing what I know about their habitat, I hope to replicate it one day and keep the true orientalis for myself.

Iranocichla hormuzensis (Picture by Natasha Khardina)

This is another classic case of wanting what I can’t have. I used to actively seek out "rare" cichlids like those from Madagascar, Lake Victoria, Lake Bermin and the third Etroplus species, E. canarensis, so seeing these made me want them because they look amazing, stay small, are from Iran, and have previously been unavailable to the hobby.

There are videos of people keeping them on YouTube so aquarium populations do exist, and there is probably a conservation effort involved with them too, but what an alluring species for the cichlid collector?

Grand Champion Koi (Picture shows Grand Champion at All European Shinkokai Koi Show 2011)

Here’s my curve ball, a man made, ornamental, colourful lump of a fish, the Koi. Basically there are Koi and then there are Koi. The best Koi are Japanese and when you really get into its all in the bloodline.

Some Koi owners don’t even keep their fish, the breeder raising it for them instead, but give me some Go Sanke of competition winning status, and about 90cm/3' long or more and you get fish of mythical status. The purest white, the deepest red and the darkest black markings adorn the fish in equilibrium, with no marks and no smudges.

And I love the chubby cheeks and fat faces that large female Japanese Koi have, and have you ever seen one move? A 60cm/2' Koi in a garden pond is one thing but move up to a 90cm/3' fish and the associated bulk and weight that comes with it give the fish a very slow, relaxed and quite different swimming pattern.

They’d have to be accompanied by the most wonderfully landscaped Koi pond of course with large rocks and mature Acers so I’d have to be rich and dying, but there we go.

Golden medaka

The first fish I ever bred and raised consciously on my own when I was a kid so they will always hold a special place in my heart. That and the fact that you can’t get them any more so I have just rose tinted memories of those incredibly hardy, coldwater fish. The coldwater tolerance was their downfall so they aren’t available to us in the UK anymore, but despite collecting many other species of Oryzias and even with the new, blue O. wororae, I’d happily trade them all in for my beloved Golden medakas.

Peacock bass

Cichla and their relatives fascinate me because of their size and their grouper or bass-like looks. I got close to them in the Rio Negro, Brazil where they are an important food fish and are traded as the freshwater equivalent of cod. Despite many specimens being kept in the UK though you don’t often see the really big mature fish that offer the full wow factor, and instead the skinny juveniles offer little to visually excite.

We’re talking the Eden Project here in terms of tank scale, with lots more water and pools large enough for me to get in and swim with them. We can all dream!

Wild Discus (picture by Heiko Bleher)

Another species for my Amazon River version of the Eden project, wild Discus. What stops me keeping them now? Finances, and the fact that compared to domestic Discus they can be a real pain to keep and prone to numerous health and hierarchical problems. When I was younger though I used to see more wild Discus in shop tanks, and even breeding. Now I just see dark unhappy ones and it's years since I’ve seen a Heckel for sale.

So once again, take the Eden project, leave the plants in place, flood, add Amazonian fauna, shove me in, zip me up and leave me. I’ll die happy and will be fertiliser for something in no time.

But I want to know your 10 fish species, no matter how far fetched. If you want to keep Sunfish and Whale sharks let me know, just leave your comments in the section below.