Looking to add a pet fish to your family house hold but have no experience? Well, our experts can help guide you to the best beginner fish available and how to set yourself up for success!
Before You Get Started
Before you head off to the pet store, ask yourself, ‘why do I want a fish tank?’ If you enjoy fish or find them interesting and want to learn more, great! If you are substituting a fish for a fluffy pet because you or a family member have allergies, great! If you are getting a fish as a “low maintenance” pet, stop right there. Fish are just as much work as any other pet! Do not think that you can set the tank up and then ignore them until feeding time. There is a lot of maintenance that goes into keeping your new pet happy and healthy (just check out our maintenance check list if you don’t believe me!).
Setting Up Your New Fish Tank
It is highly recommended that you select a tank that will suit your space and THEN choose a fish. Not all fish species have the same requirements, so it’s important to select the tank that works best for your space and how much effort you want to put into keeping it clean. The fewer fish you have per gallon, the easier it will be to keep them healthy and cut back on required maintenance. You will need a solid surface to put your tank on, so you may need to shop for both a tank AND a stand. This is not the time to use anything antique or wood!
Once you have decided how big a tank to get, it’s time to get shopping. Here is a checklist of EVERYTHING you will need to set up your new fish tank. After you have all the pieces collected, here are step by step instructions on getting everything set up.
Here are some additional resources to help outfit your fish tank:
Although we do not recommend saltwater tanks for beginners, if you are just getting started in saltwater, check out our Saltwater Tank Guide.
Our Top 5 Best Beginner Fish
My all-time favorite fish for beginners are neon tetras. These small, robust fish bring a burst of bright color and get along great in small spaces. They have a very low amount of waste output, keeping your maintenance down, and you can start with a whole school of 6-12 fish! Neon tetras can interact with all sorts of décor setups and make the best beginner fish.
Minimum tank requirement (for 8-10 fish): 5 gallons
The quintessential first pet fish is the goldfish. These magnificent fish have set the standard for beginner fish for decades. The biggest issue with this species? They get BIG! That cute little 1″ fish can grow up to the size of a dinner plate and requires lots of room. You are looking at starting with 20 gallons PER GOLDFISH and will likely have to upgrade them to 50 or even 100 gallons per fish in the future. Goldfish are great beginner fish because they are tolerant of minor problems with water quality and will eat almost anything.
Learn more about Comet Goldfish.
Minimum tank requirement (per fish): 20 gallons
Beautiful bettas are frequently kept in less than ideal conditions. Bettas are tropical fish and require a heater. They are a member of the labyrinth fishes, which means they have a specialized organ that allows them to breathe oxygen from the air if the water conditions are poor. This means they can survive in poor water quality, but shouldn’t have to. All bettas require a low-flow filter and a heater – NO exceptions!
You can expect your betta to live 3-5 years in ideal conditions. Other than environmental concerns, the next biggest issue with betta fish pets is overzealous tank decorations. With their long, delicate fins, be sure your betta has lots of room to navigate and a few spots to rest from constant swimming.
Learn more about Bettas. Ready to rescue? Click here.
Minimum tank requirement: 5-10 gallons
Very frequently, a new guppy owner comes home with one very round guppy, and soon, the tank is full of fish! How does this happen? Often, a pregnant female guppy is sold and as soon as she settles into her new home, she will release her fry. Guppies are live-bearer fish, meaning that they give birth to live young, contrasting most other pet fish species that lay eggs. Once the babies are mature, they will continue to reproduce, resulting in countless generations of offspring.
Guppies are great beginner fish for families looking to slowly grow their tank population, but we recommend you have two tanks at the ready. Once your first batch is mature, separate the males and females to eliminate additional spawning.
Minimum tank requirements (per clutch): 10-20 gallons
Another schooling fish that is easy to care for is the Zebrafish, also known as Zebra danios. Traditionally a snappy black and silver stripe, these fish can also be found in “glowing” varieties. GloFish are genetically engineered pet fish species that have coral DNA inserted into their own DNA which results in glowing fish! Zebrafish are not harmed by this protein and will produce glowing progeny. Overall, Zebrafish make excellent beginner pet fish since they are easy to care for and do not require a lot of room. Like the Neon Tetra, they will enjoy a wide variety of décor, from artificial to live setups.
Minimum tank requirement (for 8-10 fish): 5 gallons