Getting Finicky Fish to Eat

Of course a varied diet is important to our fishes' health, just like ours. Nowadays the dizzying array of frozen foods offered solve most of the problems we might have had in decades past, they are often infused with vitamins, veggies, and trace elements or minerals. Frozen fish foods have come a long way baby. They can get bit pricey though.

I want to pass along an old trick or two that we used to use to get finicky fish to eat, and to save money on fish food. I am not sure everyone knows about them, so just in case, this is a PSA from birdfish.... 

With wild fish from the ocean they can be from anywhere, any micro-habitat, while some are purely opportunists, others are often like us, very habitual in eating habits. Some species are notorius in fact for being hard to get eating well. In general unless one is an expert level aquarist we should stay away from those types of fish, no matter how beautiful or inexpensive.

But many have reputations they don't deserve IMHO, like many butterfly fish, which you can eventually get many of on flakes often (I have had over a dozen species on flakes). Of course you might not want butterflies in a reef tank with corals, but for fish-only tanks they are a great addition.

There is a long list of fish from Moorish Idol to Regal Angel that are well known for having potential to be hard to get eating well. But once you do get them going, they will be hardy pigs and live forever. In part source of fish, and method of collection and shipping can make or break a fish. People that know how to do it right all along the way, from getting good fish caught right, and then handled properly, all the way, can get you a box of eating Regal Angels. But some fish are hooked on one sponge or something equally ridiculous and have to be 'tricked' into eating in their new world. They are in shock from being shipped and their new environment. Food is still a great way to make friends. Provide lots of habitat, and a variety of good food, the way to a fishes heart is through his stomach. That sounds familiar.

The first trick to try is the old half-shell. I have seen too many fish to count that were refusing to eat, make a beeline for a half-shell and go to town on it. We used a half of any bivalve, a clam, scallop, oyster, but mussel is best for Moorish Idol. Put the food IN the half shell, then place that on the floor of the tank.

Most fish go bonkers. Often the frenzy itself will get a shy fish to eat. Do not do this if you intend on keeping live clams, flame scallops or other mollusks. But in a fish-only tank especially, the half shell is very hard for a fish to resist. It adds a placement and context effect to presentation of the food that causes them to strike.

So have a few half shells around to feed in, it is not a bad idea anyway as the shell can help control where the food goes, or not. You may be able to get some from your fish store, bait shop, or sushi place, if not supermarket.

Another method that I used to trick the headstrong into eating with was with a dead coral. Use something with bigger polyp holes. I would take a partially thawed, just barely softish, piece of semi-frozen food of choice, and press it into the pore holes in the coral. On several branches. It also works in between septa on LPS. Just push the semi-frozen brine shrimp or whatever your frozen food choice is, or even say some clam or mussel, maybe shrimp, into a coral skeleton that you use just for this and put that into tank. It can get some fussy fish to pull the trigger. This is not for fish going into a reef tank though.  

Lastly, here is a couple ways of getting some high quality cheap food material to work with ... At most supermarkets you can get a bag of frozen mixed seafood. These bags are a couple of pounds, often $5-10. They have in them a mix, usually of a half-dozen assorted seafood items, I think for a seafood gumbo type thing. Most of it makes great fish food. You might not have anything that eats the squid, at least I didn't. Even the eels spit it out.

There is usually some squid, mussel, clam, a couple types of fish, scallops (set those aside for yourself - LOL), shrimp, all kinds of marine delicacies. I'm getting hungry just writing about it.    Cut off small pieces to thaw and experiment with some of each. It's fresh real deal food to work with. When I was feeding a lot of fish, it was a good way to go, especially if you have large fish that you want to keep bulked up. Figure out what your anems like. Great for them.

It will take some time and experimentation to figure out what your fish like best, but it is dirt cheap very high quality fish food, the real deal. When frozen it can be grated too. Using a half shell is a good way to contain it (and remove uneaten food).

Then another thing available to many is the good old bait shop. Especially if marine, they can have dirt cheap mussel, shrimp, clams, or other great food items (and shells) too. If they have something your fish eat, there won't be any cheaper way to get it better for them. Bait shops may also have very inexpensive frozen fish, like anchovies or others, which can be good too, always clean and wash before using, especially anything salted. I had an anemone that lived on anchovies from the bait shop, a Moorish Idol on the mussels. They were both overweight.

So there are a few ideas and methods for feeding your fish, and getting a fussy one to eat. We hope to help make your fish fat and happy!


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