One of the many appeals of fishkeeping is that it can be enjoyed by such a wide range of people. If that were not true, then I wouldn’t have been able to start keeping fish all those years ago funded only by my meagre pocket money. Fishkeeping can also be the want of millionaires, spending thousands on an impressive collection of Japanese koi.
Having been immersed in the world of fish ever since my ‘pocket money days’, the mass appeal of fishkeeping has become ever more apparent and I find it difficult to imagine another hobby that attracts such a broad spectrum of people.
Even though as fishkeepers (ponds, koi, tropical and marine) we belong to a socially diverse group of people with our aspirations to maintain a harmonious captive aquatic world being the common denominator that links us all. The culmination of this common thread that runs through the hobby is our seemingly irresistible urge to meet or discuss matters with other fishkeepers (irrespective of background) and the formation of fishkeeping clubs and societies meets that need.
Whether your interest centres on ponds, koi, tropical or marine fish, it is more than likely that an appropriate club will be sufficiently local for you to join.
Why join a club or society?
Fishkeepers join clubs for a number of reasons, including the obvious, and that is seeking social interaction with other fishkeepers. Clubs will generally meet on a monthly basis, follow a similar structure but with a varying programme each month.
Clubs will seek both enlightenment and entertainment from a guest speaker who will usually give a presentation on their particular area of expertise, relating it to the needs and interest of the group. This is a great opportunity to meet some of the names behind books or articles you may have read, or quiz the people responsible for developing and marketing aquatic products. By simply being a member of a club, you can benefit from the club’s ability to attract these ‘big names’ who you may otherwise not have the opportunity to meet. Furthermore, there is generally a natural opportunity at the end of such an evening to meet and talk one-to-one with the guest and seek their opinion on the latest news and products. You never know, they may even let their guard down!
Some of the more active clubs plan well in advance and take suggestions from the membership as to who they should approach to give talks and what topics they would like to hear discussed. A well structured calendar of events can certainly whet the appetite for the year ahead, and is a good guide as to how dynamic a club may be prior to you joining.
Some evenings are more relaxed ‘open evenings’ where perhaps a surgery session is held, using the wealth of experience that the membership bring to solve or discuss any questions or experiences other members may have. It is certainly encouraging to discover that other people besides yourself are also experiencing similar problems, but also, that there are a number of possible solutions offered to your question by the group. The breadth of members’ interests is also likely to give you a fairly rapid feedback on some of the latest products to be launched. There always tends to be an ‘early adopter’ in the group who is the first to sample new products and is also happy to share their opinions with the rest of the membership.
Some clubs and societies are also fortunate to have aquatic retailers in their membership, proving invaluable for the guidance and their inside knowledge on the latest news from the hobby. Yet again, by being a member of a club you are likely to be party to privileged information that you may otherwise not have discovered.
Besides a more typical club meeting, many groups will arrange visits or ‘away days’ to areas of interest, depending on the nature of the group. Koi clubs will visit other koi clubs far a field, comparing ponds, visiting dealers and sharing other experiences, often making the visit into a 1 or 2 day away trip. Aquatic societies will regularly engage in shop tours, culminating in a buying trip for weird and wonderful specimens from more specialist retailers. They may even be able to negotiate a behind-the -scenes visit at a public aquarium or Sealife Centre to glean ideas, gain inspiration or simply learn how professional fishkeepers work on a larger scale.
Each year, your club is likely to stage its own show. For the uninitiated, a fish show is an event where breeders and fishkeepers (just like you and me) can exhibit their prized specimens to be judged against other fish in the same class. Tropical Aquarist Societies will generally combine such a show with an auction, which is an opportunity to purchase rare species at very reasonable prices from breeders across the country.
Koi clubs have a reputation for putting on even larger shows (with larger fish). Generally held outdoors in marquees or an outdoor arena, a koi show will represent the club’s high point in the calendar. Creating a show committee, the club’s annual show is an opportunity to demonstrate what a great event they can organise. Planned and managed completely with the spare time and goodwill of its members, it is a super way of getting to know and work with your fellow members on a common project. Whatever fish experience you may bring, you are likely to be able to offer time and specific practical skills that will help you organise a very successful show, and see the club’s coffers grow in size.
How do you find or join a fishkeeping club or society?
The best starting point for discovering your local fishkeeping society is your local aquarium retailer or koi dealer. Posters and fliers advertising the local club’s activities may well be posted and the owner or manager may know further details or be a member themselves. Clubs are thrilled to see new members and I can assure you that your learning will start on your very first visit. Besides the many activities a club may partake in, they will have a large selection of books and videos that can be loaned by any member. Many clubs also allow would-be members the freedom to attend a number of meetings on a trial basis prior to committing to a year’s membership. A meagre annual membership fee will open lots of different avenues and pay you back in dividends by what you can both gain from being a member and also give back through your own contacts, knowledge and experience.
Whether you are interested in keeping, breeding, appreciating or even exhibiting fish, there will be a club or society closer than you realise ready to welcome you and eager to expand your fishkeeping horizons.