The benefits of grooming your arowana.

By Johnny Filart

It was a journey that took twenty-three years! No regrets, only lots and lots of learning.

Having won a great fish show with this super red arowana encouraged me to pursue this worthwhile hobby. Today, I feel like a million bucks for having these swimming dragons. Eastern culture reveres them as symbols of prosperity and luck!

In 1993, business took me to Hong Kong and my good friend, Egbert Chan, introduced me to Tung Choi Street. Today, it is more commonly known as Hong Kong’s Goldfish Market. Get off at the MTR’s Prince Edward Station on the Kowloon side and the wall map can easily direct you to the exit nearest Tung Choi street. At the end of the street, opposite the station, was the craziest community tank I had ever seen at the time. It held a community of nine adult super red arowanas: a picture that would be etched in my mind for years to come.

Going home to Manila, I acquired two six-foot, 180 gallon aquariums which would house my own “red” arowanas. With Asian literature on arowanas predominantly written in Chinese, there was very little information Egbert and I could use in order to make a distinction between the commercially sold red arowanas and the super red arowanas. Thus it came to pass that in 1995, my wife was laughing at me when my two red arowanas never ever became red!

They say there are no mistakes in life, only learnings. So when I built my current home in 1998, I vowed that the basement would automatically become my “arowana lounge.” However, my ringneck aviary took precedence, and thus, I was not able to assemble my arowana tanks in the lounge until 2005. By then, I realized the distinction between a red arowana (it will never really become red) and the super red arowanas or what some fish farms would certify as chilli red arowanas.

My shopping list for Asian arowanas by then had grown to include red tail goldens, crossbacks, and platinum arowanas. The two times I made the trip to Singapore’s Aquarama as well as the countless books that had been translated and even written in English had given me a road map on my journey to assemble an honest-to-goodness arowana lounge.

Having sold my friends’ call center in 2007 facilitated my purchase and I was able to completely establish a collection of twenty-two different Asian arowanas. By 2009, I decided to just keep a few distinguished aros from my collection and sold more than a dozen of them: the first batch to a hobbyist attempting to breed the Asian aros and about seven of them to a neighbor who found the arowanas a worthwhile fish to collect.

What have I learned over twenty years?

Shar is my Mandoor Super Red; though just nine months old, Shar already shows very good promise regarding color and structure.

Twenty-three years and thirty Asian arowana books later—not to mention a dozen foreign trips abroad to shows and farms—I was elated in October 2015 to see how far the hobby had come. Moreover, with the prices I paid for my previous collection and the current prices of super red arowanas, I saw it was time to rekindle my love for this swimming jewel!

At half the prices I paid for super reds in 2007, today, you can get five to seven inch super reds with their cheeks already showing coloration. Aros like these ten years ago would easily fetch US$ 2500 each. This was because selective breeding had only just begun and only one or two Kalimantan arowana farms had been successful bringing out the orange red colors in their F3 to F5 productions. The Singapore traders were woefully unsuccessful in commercializing these gems and had to contend with F1 and F2 breedings.

Of course, the progeny of these programs were taking five to seven years before any clear coloration would show. As I took my hiatus from my arowanas from 2010 to 2015, so many things changed… but they changed for the better!

The groomer has it!

Not only were Indonesian super red farms oversupplying the market, the China card which used to gobble up huge numbers of these glowing red aros started slowing down. Second, the aquarium tanks and equipment revolutionized to the point where startup hobbyists could have a complete setup for a minimal investment.

So much has changed in lighting systems that today, tanning lights are effectively reducing the time it takes for super red aros to show their true colors. Ten years ago, it took three to five years for aros to show; today, with the right tanning facilities, equipment, and housing, super red aros show within a year of their purchase.

Third, technology both on the Internet and videos in English regarding selective breeding and tanning abound. It is very common to see seven to nine inch super red arowanas showing promising red colors being sold in Tung Choi street for HK$ 30,000. If you are patient and very resourceful, you no longer have to travel to Hong Kong, Malaysia, or Singapore. There are at least five very good importers of super red arowanas in the Philippines. There may be more but I have known these five for over ten years and their reliability is beyond doubt.

Prices still fluctuate in a broad band depending on the brightness of the red color, the largeness of the fins and tails, and the overall conformation of the aro.

However, as mentioned earlier, patience and perseverance will pay off handsomely, especially if your start-up capital is small. I am glad I kept at least a dozen of my arowana tanks. It was also a big help that I invested in expensive filtration ten years ago that lasts forever, and like Kenneth and Mock windows, are guaranteed for life. Aquarium Zen’s fiberglass filtration equipment is worth the money I paid for it in the past. Today, they continue to require minimal maintenance as well as being very easy to clean and maintain for the boys that I hire to keep them running.

Human resource headaches are not proprietary to corporations and big business. Over the past twenty years, I have changed boys at least eight times. Yet the handover and training required by the proper filtration equipment has allowed me to transition well and today enables me to provide the correct water parameters for my super red arowanas.

The growth and coloration stages My smallest super red is a seven inch aro from Longxin Universal. It was an inch shorter two months ago when I bought it and I hope that it colors at the same rate as my two other six inchers that I bought from Sam’s Lagoon. They both showed redness in their cheeks and the outlines of the scales within a few months. Toto chides me for selling the two to brothers in community as I didn’t profit from their sale. I was just happy sharing the passion for the hobby and starting up friends with the right stock.

Grooming Super Red Arowanas is a very fulfilling hobby for older fish keepers. The transformation over several years in color and structure provides a high comparable to finishing a long journey marked with several challenges.

While Toto promises this Longxin baby will color, I don’t expect much in order not to get frustrated or even turned off. Tagged in December 2015, it may take another six months to show its color. I take the word of my suppliers as I have known all of them for over fifteen years. By end of 2016, I expect this fish to be at eight to ten inches with the cheeks already red and the scales already outlined the same way. I do not use tanning lights on my super reds due to budgetary constraints. I believe running aquarium filtration motors 24/7 the way I run my seven tanks now are equivalent to the air-conditioning costs of my children’s bedrooms, if they ran at night only.

Thus while I know how to perfectly set up a tanning salon for an arowana, I would rather use the tanks I have that are exposed to sunlight from three to five hours each day. It is cheaper to hire a boy to clean the algae daily and replace the filter floss at the primary stage of my wet and dry filters every three to five days as Jay Africa of Arowana Kingdom suggested last December. My second arowana-in-progress is a nine inch Kuala Mandoor Indah beauty sold to me by The Big Fish Place.

Doc Glenn and I have been friends since he was in med school and still single. I was a regular visitor to his parents place and would buy my rice from his father every month for several years. I was lucky to chance upon this young arowana just as his colors started showing on both cheeks and lining his scales.

However, my faith in Glenn is anchored on two of my adult ElKindos. Value for money has always been a decider for me. While I called Glenn so that I could buy a young Robin Red aro, he convinced me that this Mandoor, tagged in October 2015, was an option since I was always badgering him to lower his price. I never regretted referring friends and relatives to him, many of which are still his customers today. It is not a surprise that he has opened his third aro shop in the heart of the Banawe district, a frequent habitue for many arowana collectors and fanciers. It is either a place where they transact business or use as a watering hole.

Last December I picked up what is now a twelve inch Violet Fusion super red arowana from Franklin of Lamb’s Marketing. I had purchased a pair of stingrays months earlier but decided the arowanas were still a better investment after realizing I don’t have the luxury of spending hours monitoring my fish—but probably only thirty minutes to an hour each day. Quian Hu remains to be Lamb’s foremost brand of arowanas.

I have followed their firm’s history throughout the years and have no doubt that, being one of the oldest and largest trading firms in Singapore’s huge aquatic industry, Franklin had the bragging rights to represent a major brand in the Philippine market. At last count before this Violet Fusion, I had purchased at least seven Quian Hu aros from Lamb’s. While they are no longer with me, they were always the first choice of my friends who bought them from me.

Thus while Franklin was freezing in the Shanghai cold early last January, I convinced him to call his daughter back home to sell me this super red tagged in September 2014. I have a very interesting fourth super red arowana. This 24-inch behemoth was tagged by the Shelook Red company in April 2012. It was swimming in Toto’s ten foot tank inside his house with neither tanning lights nor sunlight to allow its colors to show. In fact it reminded me of my first “red” arowana in 1993.

I was challenged to “groom” this arowana. One, because its conformation and body build was perfect and two, I had another super red three years younger than this and it had gone from dull gold in color to shinning gold in a year, and now, to orange red after its former owner fed him shrimps for twelve months. This Elkindo, dubbed “Oscar Dela Hoya,” is now back with me as my friend migrated to Florida. I named my Shelook Red “Mang Toto” so that I will never forget where he came from. Now more than six months with me, it has shown the color progression the El Kindo went through with me.

If I feed it prawns, then a year of tanning will result in the orange red colors. As you may have guessed it, Oscar Dela Hoya—now known as Adam (after my grandson)—is my fifth aro. I purchased Adam from Fish Connection in May 2009. As its gills curled often, I decided to give it to my good friend Bob Tuvai in 2011. I had given him an RTG a few months before, and as I got busy with work, I decided he should get to own this Elkindo since I didn’t see myself addressing its frequent gill curling problem. Little did I know that I had the wrong filtration setup to match the protein rich diet I was providing the fish, and left much more to be desired when it came to maintaining the proper water parameters.

Interestingly, as I kept in constant touch with Bob, in late 2014, he asked me to take the aro back. He had just undergone a heart bypass and he had to change his boy, in addition to taking care of hundreds of flowerhorns. I still have the aro’s pictures from back then. A dull gold color, it quickly turned to bright yellow after six months in my lanai. Thus it was no surprise that my neighbor egged me on to sell it to him in early 2015.

As mentioned earlier, my neighbor had just migrated to the States and sold back Adam to me; by now, he was a bright orange red beauty. Obviously for me, it was sweeter the second time I got the aro back. Of all my super red aros, my heart belongs to Glenn, my 2013 Best in Show Aquafiesta Champion! Tagged in January 2008, Glenn was sold to me by Fish Connection in 2010 because its original owner migrated to Australia. It did not come cheap as I had to buy two other super red aros in order to buy Glenn! Looking back, I know I made the right sacrifice.

I sold the two other aros to my neighbor for the price I paid for the three, just so I could break even. Am sure the investment I made on superworms, frozen and live shrimp, and platys to keep Glenn in tiptop shape for showing has now aggregated to the total equivalent to buying a young super red arowana today. No regrets here as Glenn is my wife’s favorite. He is also the favorite of my busness partners who often see him as they smoke their cigarettes in my lanai every time we have a board meeting at home. It’s a journey, not a destination Loving what you do shows when people come by and admire the work you have done over the years. I would not have done it any other way.

I don’t have the money to buy great aros instantly but I have the passion to groom them over the span of several years. It is important to give them enough sun and the proper diet. I have resisted giving them prawns as I have six voracious aros that have the ability to make a hole in my pocket if I succumb to the temptation to hasten their tanning! I believe I will go invest on electricity to run my filtration, but the current to tan in a shorter period of time will have to be a dream of the future. I can describe my love for super red arowanas today as dreaming and believing. It’s a fulfilling journey that continues for the better and will be enjoyed for many more years to come!

This appeared in Animal Scene’s July 2016 issue.