Brightly colored fish dart among the waving plants. They swim between the rocks and nibble on their food at the surface of the water.
Members of the Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society get a great deal of enjoyment from their hobby. The group meets monthly to share information, educate members and enjoy social time.
"We have members of all ages, young people who can't drive yet and older members as well," said Dan Guman, who has been a member of YATFS for more than 30 years. "There is such a vast amount of knowledge and experience in the club." Guman lives in Aliquippa, Pa., and travels to the monthly meetings.
Boardman Center Middle School Underwater Spartans club members are shown in front of one of the tanks they maintain at the school. According to Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society member Tom DiCola, the students take care of six aquariums throughout the school.
YATFS is a hobby group made up of aquarists and dealers to promote the keeping of freshwater and saltwater fish and plants. The club is open to anyone interested in aquariums.
"I got started when I was 10 years old," said Tom DiCola, from Boardman. "My uncle bought me a set-up and a book about fish with beautiful pictures. I think it was the most important part of the gift because it really piqued my interest." DiCola kept fish all through college and joined YATFS when he moved to the area for work.
At the meetings, speakers from the area or across the United States share their knowledge of different breeds of fish. There are tropical fish clubs in Akron, Cleveland and Pittsburgh and also specialty clubs, according to Guman. Club members report on their fish and discuss successes and problems.
When you go:
Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society
7:30 p.m., third Friday of each month
Mineral Ridge Presbyterian Church
Membership is $12 annually; people are encouraged to attend two meetings free of charge before they decide to join the club.
Anyone interested in the aquarium hobby is welcome to attend.
"Keeping fish is an art and a science," said DiCola. "People bring questions and problems to the group; people who have been in the hobby many years are still looking to expand their knowledge."
Some fish will readily spawn in aquariums; others are more difficult. YATFS has a breeder's award program that awards points to members who successfully spawn and raise the "fry," as young fish are known. Hobbyists learn more about the breed and report on their efforts; they get awards and recognition - it's a challenge, according to Guman. There are different award levels according to the member's experience and different points, based on how difficult it is to spawn the species of fish.
"It can be addicting," Guman admits. "I have over one hundred tanks; members have 'his and hers' aquariums based on what fish they like." Guman said many people start out with a small tank and quickly outgrow it however the hobby can be pleasurable in whatever price range the aquarist chooses.
Club members can add to their fish collection at meetings. Part of the BAP includes bringing fish the breeder has raised so that members can purchase the fry which have been spawned.
"The fish you see in a pet store are the tip of the iceberg," said Guman. "You can buy fish on the Internet or at auctions." YATFS will hold a live fish auction on March 21, which is open to the public; check the Web site for time and location.
Members also donate fish to another fish club. The Boardman Center Middle School Underwater Spartans is a group of middle-schoolers that DiCola works with. Seventh-grade life science students learn about fish and are invited to join the afterschool club.
"There are six aquariums throughout the school," said DiCola. "Kids learn how to top off the tanks, do a partial water change and maintain the tanks. It may be the first time they've been responsible for a pet and they really enjoy the hands-on part of it." One of the tanks is in the administrative office so everyone who comes in sees it and there is a great deal of pride in keeping it, according to DiCola.
"I enjoy the diversity of the fish," said DiCola. "You find something new about a fish the longer you keep it." DiCola specializes in killiefish, from a Dutch word meaning "small stream," which can easily be kept in smaller tanks. He is also beginning to specialize in catfish, which can range in size from small to monstrous, he said.