how to catch fish in a planted aquarium

how to catch fish in a planted aquarium

Catching fish in a lush planted aquarium can be a tricky endeavor. Removing fish for transport or tank maintenance requires care to avoid harming delicate plants or disrupting the ecosystem. With proper preparation and a gentle approach, you can successfully net fish in a planted tank.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover best practices for catching fish while minimizing disturbances to your aquascape.


Understanding Fish Behavior in Planted Tanks

Planted aquariums provide fish with security and enrichment. The aquatic vegetation offers plenty of hiding spots and simulates their natural environment. However, this dense plant growth also impacts fish behavior and catchability:

  • Fish feel protected by plants and utilize them for cover
  • Different species have varying movement patterns and reclusiveness
  • Shy species like betta tend to linger near tank substrate and corners
  • More active fish like tetra prefer open water but take cover when startled

You must act with care when netting fish that are accustomed to vegetation as part of their habitat. Harsh chasing and uprooting causes severe stress to all inhabitants. Catching fish in planted tanks requires patience, the proper tools, and a gentle approach.

“Planted tanks offer enrichment but also unique challenges for maintenance. Allow fish time to adjust to your presence in the tank before attempting to catch them. Small movements and patience are key.” – Dr. Linda Rhodes, Fish Veterinarian

Preparing Your Aquarium for Catching Fish

Proper preparation is essential for creating ideal catching conditions while protecting your aquascape:

  • Use small, fine mesh nets – Avoid large nets that can easily snag and uproot plants. Opt for ultra-fine, knotless nets designed specifically for small, delicate fish.
  • Manually reduce lighting – Lower light levels help reduce stress and draw out shy, reclusive fish. Use nighttime or dusk lighting settings.
  • Remove obstructions – Take out decor and detritus to open up space and improve net accessibility.
  • Have a holding container ready – Transfer fish quickly from nets into containers filled with original tank water to avoid prolonged air exposure.
  • Use a battery powered siphon – Remove uneaten food and waste from the substrate without disturbing the tank.
  • Gently scrape off algae – Excess algae buildup can impede nets and visibility during the process.


Step-by-Step Guide to Catching Fish in a Planted Tank

Follow this careful, step-by-step method for stress-minimizing fish catching:

1. Observe and Identify Target Fish

  • Spend 15-20 minutes observing fish movement patterns and hideouts before catching.
  • Identify specific target fish and optimal netting opportunities based on observed behavior.
  • Allow fish adequate time to acclimate to your presence in the tank before starting.

2. Prepare the Aquarium Environment

  • Use a battery powered siphon to remove any debris or waste from substrate and surfaces.
  • Gently scrape off any significant algae buildup from plant leaves and decor.
  • Remove rocks, driftwood, or other decor where possible to open up interior space.

3. Dim the Aquarium Lighting

  • Manually reduce light levels or use a timer to set tank lighting to nighttime or dusk levels.
  • Allow at least 15 minutes for fish to adjust to the lowered lights and enter a calmer, less stressed state.

4. Gently Net the Target Fish

  • Using slow, smooth, deliberate motions, catch fish only during observed opportune moments as they emerge naturally.
  • Patiently wait for shy species to exit hiding spaces. Avoid excessive chasing or disturbing plants.
  • Quickly but gently transfer each netted fish to the prepared holding container filled with original tank water.

5. Catch Remaining Fish

  • Repeat process carefully for each additional fish, optimizing order based on observed hideouts and emergence patterns.
  • Move every fish promptly from nets into the holding tank to avoid any improper handling or air exposure.

6. Reverse Changes and Return Fish

  • Replace any removed decor, restore normal lighting levels, and replant any uprooted plants.
  • Acclimate fish by floating holding container in tank for 10-15 minutes before release.
  • Perform partial 15-20% water change and siphon again to remove any stirred debris.
  • Allow fish ample peaceful time to destress and reestablish normal movement/behaviors.

Tailoring Your Catching Approach for Different Species

Certain fish species require special considerations during catching to minimize stress:

Betta Fish

  • Avoid removing any tank structures or plants betta rely on to reach the surface for gulping air.
  • Betta prefer darkened, heavily planted corners and take refuge at tank bottom.
  • Exercise extreme care and patience with betta as they are prone to stress related illnesses.

Tetras, Rasboras, and Barbs

  • Expect fast evasive behaviors from these active schooling fish.
  • Isolate a single fish from the school for more controlled gentle catching.
  • Use smooth, rapid net sweeps matched to their speedy movements.

Cory Catfish and Plecos

  • Beware of snagging sensitive barbels, fins, and armored plates with nets.
  • Draw bottom dwelling fish out into open areas versus netting in hides.
  • Transfer cory and plecos with special care to avoid over-exposure to air.

Large Species Like Discus and Angelfish

  • Catch large, shy fish at night or dusk when they venture away from shelters.
  • Use oversized nets and containers suited for their substantial size.
  • Isolate in holding containers to prevent injurious contact with others.

“Know your fish and their behaviors. Species-specific traits determine the best catching strategies. Sensitive fish like discus require the most care and patience.\\\” – Sara, Planted Tank Enthusiast

Avoiding Common Catching Risks

Exercise caution to avoid these hazardous pitfalls while catching fish in planted tanks:

  • Entangled nets from snagging on moss, stems or leaves
  • Uprooted plants that expose damaged stems to infection
  • Injured fish from excessive chasing, handling, and air exposure
  • Shocked, stressed fish from bright lights, loud noises, and disrupted shelters
  • Trapped fish from improperly sealed nets, containers, or neglected plants


Catching fish in lush planted aquariums demands careful observation skills, thorough preparation, and an extremely gentle netting approach. The health of the ecosystem and inhabitants should always come first. Ensure you use appropriate small nets and filled holding containers. Strategically dim lights, remove obstructions, and match technique to species behaviors. But most crucially, exercise tremendous patience and respect for the aquatic life in your planted tank. With this comprehensive guide and cautious practices, you can successfully remove fish from planted tanks with minimal impact.

What tips do you have for safely catching fish in planted tanks? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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