By Robert Randall
Minnesota Aquarium Society
Hi, y’all! That was and is a big Texas welcome from Texas cichlid lovers. Specifically, Kathy England and Kathy Stearns, who work hard to make visitors feel welcome, but everyone in Texas wants to welcome visitors, too. Well, who the heck are Kathy England and Kathy Stearns? Texas is a big state and they have at least five fish clubs there. These clubs have an umbrella organization. The Federation of Texas Aquarium Societies (FOTAS), which has been around for 51 years.
Last year was the Golden Anniversary celebration of FOTAS, hosted by Texas Cichlid Association (TCA). The Kathys are one reason why this celebration was a big success. The rest of the reasons are TCA members that also worked hard to put on a big show. TCA invited people like Randy Carey, Ad Konings, Wayne Liebel, Pam Chin and many more to speak during the three-day show and auction to commemorate FOTAS’s 50th birthday.
This all sounded good to me before it even started, but it is at least a 16-hour drive to Arlington from Twin Cities (Minnesota, that is). Rob Lucken joined me, and we headed South on Thursday at about 5 a.m.
Rob and I had been told about Keller Farms, a local fish store, and planned on going there. It so happened that Wayne Liebel arrived at the hotel about the time we were heading out. He wanted to see it again. As we drove, he told us that Keller Farms is a house converted into a store. Out front are broken aquariums and inside there is something for anyone who keeps fish.
When we arrived, we found that the broken aquariums had been moved from the front to the back yard of house. Out front, instead, were piles of various decorative rocks, some fish boxes and an old dog. The front yard was a parking lot.
We stepped around the dog and went inside the house, friendly people yelling “HI!” at us as we walked in. The living room contained hard goods, the cash register and lots of dry foods. We took a turn into a small bedroom where there were non-cichlids. My interests were elsewhere, and I moved into the next room. There were a few large tanks crowding the room and blocking access to a shelf of small tanks.
Suddenly in front of me was a tank with large pinstripe dambas in it. Jim Mathis and Rob had helped me get started with Paretroplus petiti, and they are fascinating fish. Paretroplus menarambo, the pinstripe damba is a slightly larger cousin to P. petiti. There must have been ten dambas in there all about 10 to 12 inches. There were also numerous other fish in the tank. The water was slightly cloudy and the damba fins were frayed. It was Friday and thoughts of how to get some of these fish back home came to me.
The rest of the store was sort of a blur as thoughts of pinstripes filled my head. Outside, my head cleared a bit as we looked at ten or more ponds filled with koi, goldfish and whatever else was outside that day.
As we started to make a second round of the store, my path lead back to Paretroplus menarambo. Asking one of the workers the price was a shock. The fish were only $18 each. Keller Farms offers no guarantee on fish once they leave the store, but prices on all their stock is the lowest ever seen in a retail store.
The owners of Keller Farms are Page and Colleen, members of TCA. They do not just have a TCA membership but are part of TCA backbone, working to keep this club as one of the best in the nation. Often Page will add special fish orders to his store order for TCA members.
The young lady working there told me we could sex the dambas. So we did, getting soaked in the process. These are big fish with big fins. In the end there were two fish of one sex and one fish of other sex. A year later it is still not clear what sex those fish are.
Rob helped me get the lunkers back to the hotel, where they all three were placed in a 20 gal rental tank. Later Rob noticed one that was slightly smaller losing some scales. Marvin England found me another 10 gal tank and he/she was moved. Rob also noticed water was becoming a little cloudy and suggested a water change, which we did.
Sunday morning came and it was time to bag the big guys up. They had already finned the bags used to bag them at the store. Fortunately, Rob came to the rescue again with some large bags. We stayed for a couple hours of auction and headed home about 1 pm. Colleen of Keller Farms was nice enough to bring me some additional plastic bags so these bags were used around Rob’s. It was a good thing Colleen brought those bags because it was then additional pure oxygen was added to bags. Rob purchased fish too but declined the oxygen, which was unfortunate.
We headed towards home–oops, I almost forgot—old friends Cynthia Teague, Dean Hougen and George were at this show, too. They invited us to stop by their home on the way back. We stopped in Norman to admire their tanks. Cynthia has a nice tank with Synodonitis in it. She is working on breeding them. Dean has another large tank with South American basket mouth cichlids in it. Cynthia fed those guys mealworms and you would think they had never seen food before.
Back on the road again. We arrived home early Monday morning. All three Paretroplus menarambo arrived alive. A trio of Malawian haps also arrived alive, but one of the females passed away during the next few days. Rob was not so fortunate. He lost almost all of the fish he purchased at Keller Farms and at the auction. Maybe they needed larger bags with more oxygen. Or maybe Apple Valley water is closer to Texas water that West Saint Paul water. It was a shame because Rob had some nice fish. If the black ocellatus had lived and spawned there would be a new shelldweller in my fish room.
The Paretroplus menarambo spawned shortly after our return but that is another story. These fish would not be in my fish room unless many coincidences occurred during our Texas trip, my thanks that they did.