Something fishy is going on in the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Pearl Street. Each month, around 50 people descend upon the space to swap fish tales, advice and gear at Tropical Fish Club Burlington’s meetings.
“When you’re starting out yourself, it’s hard to know who to talk to, who to trust and what information is right,” club member Ann Whitman said. “That’s where the Tropical Club comes in.”
Tropical Fish Club Burlington was founded 30 years ago by husband and wife David and Janine Banks. It spawned from Janine’s childhood passion for fish, which she passed along to David. The two saw a tropical fish club in Connecticut and decided to start their very own in Essex Jct.
The club boasts 50 members, according to David Banks. The group of freshwater fanatics holds monthly meetings, which start with a door prize followed by an open forum to discuss the care and keeping of fish, a presentation from a noteworthy speaker and conclude with an auction.
This month, TFCB will host a speaker from the United Kingdom to discuss Corydoras catfish.
“The club gets speakers from all over — it’s really amazing,” Whitman said. “Dave and Janine Banks are very well connected and very good at organizing these things.”
A fish habitat expert the duo landed several years ago lured Whitman into joining the group, but her love of tropical freshwater fish began much earlier, in her childhood, when her uncle introduced her to the hobby. He bought Whitman her first a bowl of guppies, and she was hooked.
“I’ve had fish continuously ever since, more than 50 years,” Whitman said. “Over all these years I’ve kept almost [every species].”
But her favorites are from South America. Whitman studied the region and its fish as a teen and has wanted to visit the Amazon River ever since. For now, her fish and the homes she designs for them transport her to distant lands.
Whitman crafts biotope aquariums, or replicas of the natural habitats from where her fish hail.
“You’re re-creating all of the aspects that are possible from one specific place … such as one bank of a tributary of the Amazon River,” she said. “It can be very specific.”
Whitman purchases dead leaves from Peru and other foreign goods to make her aquariums as homelike as possible for the fish, but the hobby doesn’t have to be terribly expensive.
“Everybody gets a tank, and some people just like to take that to an extreme,” David Banks said.
Member Ira Gardner-Morse is a good example. His basement is devoted to three walls of tanks which are home to saltwater and freshwater fish; he even breeds some. He said the auctions at TFCB are great for purchasing affordable, healthy fish and plants.
But newcomers needn’t worry, since the club welcomes even fish-less enthusiasts.
Both David Banks and Whitman agreed the club’s greatest element is socialization. According to Banks, it’s important to be able to share experiences and ask questions with other hobbyists.
“The club is a pretty open, friendly group,” he said. “A lot of the members become very close friends.”
It’s an opportunity to share tips, successes and failures. A popular topic is breeding, which Banks, Whitman and Gardner-Morse said is both the most challenging and rewarding part of keeping tropical fish.
“It’s difficult when fish are dropping thousands of eggs but I’m not successfully breeding them,” Gardner-Morse said. But the payoff of watching the baby fish grow up makes the failures worthwhile.
“When fish are spawning, you know they’re happy… I’m doing something right,” Whitman said. “It’s pretty neat to actually make more of the fish I like to keep.”
New fish enthusiasts are welcome and encouraged to join TFCB at the group’s next meeting on October 11 in the Essex Jct. VFW building.
And the club will host a large fish and equipment auction at the South Burlington Holiday Inn on November 11. In June, TFCB will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a three-day mini-convention in South Burlington.