On one such evening, a few friends and I were over at Martin Manalang’s place. Martin has been a fishkeeper since he was 12 years old and his experience in fishkeeping is rich. Through the years, he has kept many kinds of fish, but what he finds fascinating are the large exotic fishes. His current collection is composed of different species of large lower jaw bichirs, a huge Ripsaw catfish, a Wallago leerii catfish, an Irwini catfish, a large Marbled lungfish, and a host of other fish in about 6 or 7 tanks.

It was a fun evening of food, drinks, and a lot of conversations, mostly about fish, of course. While gathered around his tanks in the patio, he grabbed a handful of fish food pellets and a big syringe. As he was tinkering with
these he said, “Hey guys, I found a way to make floating pellets sink.”

True enough, whole pellets sank to the bottom, and the Marbled lungfish greedily gobbled it up. In true lungfish fashion, it made a total mess of the pellets. It sucked them all in, chewed the pellets, regurgitated them, and took the dough-like fish food back in. A very nice sight when you’re eating with
fishy friends, I guess. After all, the crowd was entertained by an actual show of the “table manners” lungfish are known for. The crowd cheered what they had just witnessed. Not even Nat Geo has ever documented lungfish eating, and we saw it live, right in front of us!

When the cheers died down, everybody asked, “How did you do that?” So Martin obliged and demonstrated his procedure for making floating pellets sink.

Why make them sink? – This may sound unimportant to some but for the fishkeepers gathered that night, this was a procedure they all wanted to learn. This small crowd was composed of fishkeepers with more than a hundred years of fishkeeping experience among them. Yet they were eager to know how It was done. They knew the value of this procedure especially if you have bottom dwelling fish like the Eartheaters from the genus Geophagus, catfishes, bichirs, etc. These fish prefer their food to be offered at the bottom and they will hardly swim to the surface for their morsels.

Through the years, these fishkeepers have tried their own methods to make floating pellets sink. One is by soaking the floating pellets in a pail of water before feeding these to the fish. This takes forever; oftentimes, you are done with your chores and have totally forgotten about your floating pellets in the pail. Also, this method leaves you with soggy pellets that disintegrate at the bottom, leaving a mess.

Another method is to put the floating pellets in a bottle, add water, and vigorously shake it until they sink. You end up tiring yourself with this method, and you get broken pellets, murky water, and end up creating even more mess in the tank.

Martin’s method is easy, effective, and takes just about a minute, especially if you have whole pellets that are still perfectly formed and will not cloud your water.

I asked Martin why he does this, and he said most of his fish are bottom dwellers. “I just want to make their lives easier by offering food at the bottom. Another common problem with tanks with sumps is the overflow design, if you feed [the fish] floating pellets, chances are, [these] will just end up in the sump and pollute your water. Thus it is important to feed sinking pellets if you have a sump.”

This was such an amazing procedure that I congratulated Martin about it. He deflected the praise and said he just learned of it from another visitor that night, Loui de Belen. Loui is a relatively new fishkeeper who picked up the hobby two years ago. But that didn’t stop him from discovering tricks in the hobby and sharing them with friends. Loui admits, “I actually saw a video of it and it just made sense with me.” He is a registered nurse who works for a residential facility for the homeless elderly and is adept at handling a syringe. Thus it made perfect sense for him to use a syringe when he saw the video.

To use this procedure, you will need floating pellets, a big syringe (of course I purchased one the other day because I had to try this myself and bought a 50ml syringe; if you can get a bigger one it should be better as this means you can process more floating pellets) and some water.

The steps are easy:

1. (If your syringe came with a needle, remove this; you will only need the plastic part.) Remove the plunger (the part you push) of the syringe, then fill a fourth of the barrel (the syringe body) with floating pellets. Try not to put in more because it will only make your life difficult if you have too much. Maybe if you have learned the technique, you may opt to have more pellets. But for starters, a syringe with a fourth of it capacity taken up by pellets should be good.

2. Covering the open tip with your finger, point the syringe downwards then fill up the barrel or body of the syringe with water up to half of its capacity. Of course, you have to plug the tip; otherwise, the water will just leak out.

3. Attach the syringe plunger by carefully fitting it in the barrel, then point the syringe upwards. Remove your finger from the tip and push the plunger until the barrel is free of air. Now you have a syringe half filled with water and floating pellets. At this point, you will observe that the pellets occupy the top half of the barrel and the water will be in the lower half.

4. This is the most crucial step. Cover the tip of the syringe with your finger and pull on the plunger with all your might. This will be quite an effort because your finger is covering the tip. In all my trials, I have never managed to pull the plunger from the barrel except when I accidentally removed my finger from the tip. The plunger instantly flew from the barrel, scattering pellets all over my fish room. But if you managed to keep your finger on the tip, you will not experience the mess as you pull the plunger.

Loui explains that because the syringe is actually a vacuum, pulling the plunger displaces water into the pellets and forces the air inside the pellets out. Since the pellets no longer have air that makes them float, they sink to the bottom. “The pellets become denser and thus they sink to the bottom,” shares Loui.

5. Point the syringe upwards and release your finger. You will observe that the water now occupies the top half and the pellets are in the bottom half. If you did step 4 correctly, then you should have sunk the pellets you processed. If you did a poor job, then some pellets may still be floating. Just repeat step 4 until all the pellets sink.

6. Lastly, drain the water from the syringe; at this point, it will be a little murky. You do this by pointing the syringe down, keeping the tip open, and pulling the plunger out of the barrel. Once the plunger is out, water will trickle down. Once the barrel is empty, you may now feed your sinking pellets to your fish. The moment you drop the pellets in the tank, you will notice them sinking to the bottom as you hoped they would.

This procedure is a valuable lesson learned. Even I, with many years of fishkeeping experience, value this. For many years, I tried in vain to sink floating pellets, and this procedure gives us an efficient and effective way of doing so. Nowadays, this is something I practice every time I need to feed bottom-dwelling fish. It is now a regular task I do in my fishkeeping chores. Thanks to my friends, I learned something new. It is nice to have your fishkeeping friends; you have fun and you learn so much from them.

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s August 2016 issue.