My First Arowana

In 1990, I got my first arowana. (I know you are smiling now, as most of you had not yet been born.) I am a true blue fish lover. I bought a silver arowana from a pet store along Recto and Abad Santos Street in Manila, as I recall. Its size was around 6 inches. I can fully remember how happy I was every time I came home from school.

It took only a few months before the silver arowana outgrew its tank. I asked my mother’s help to upgrade my tank to seventy-five gallons. After much persuasion, she gave in and bought me the tank.

When we were setting up the new one, I had to be content with getting information from local pet shops on how to transfer a large arowana from one tank to another as no internet access and fish groups were available then. I made all the preparations such as having two plastic tubs to catch the fish. I nervously let the arowana swim in the transparent plastic bag where I put it, confident that it would hold the fish since I already had doubled it. As I lifted the plastic, I felt the fish begin to rampage.

The tank was just a foot away. As I swung the plastic towards the other tank, suddenly, there was a loud burst and before I knew it, the plastic broke and the silver arowana fell to the floor. I panicked and cannot anymore remember how I was able to bring it back it to the new tank. The silver arowana recovered but lost many scales.

The fish stayed with me for years. Silver arowana are prone to droopy eyes. A way to prevent this is to place colored ping-pong balls or any floating items that will let the fish focus on the water surface. Some swear that this works while others say it does not.

Creating a set-up

I set up a 250 gallon tank with my own filter design. Here is my current modified setup:

  • Tank size: Approx. 72 x 26 x 28 inches. Water volume is around 230 gallons. Minimum width is 24 inches to provide the arowana with a nice turning radius when it swims. I recommend 28 inch height and not higher for easy bottom cleaning.
  • Filtration: Overflow box and vertical design sump
  • Tank background: A dark green color using fibreglass sheets as it enhances the gold coloration of the fish
  • Substrate: Black river sand with 2 inches thickness. Even without an under gravel filter, I do not encounter problems related with anaerobic bacteria.
  • Decor: 12-inch driftwood placed at the center bottom of the tank. The driftwood also helps maintain the softness of the water needed by the arowana.
  • Lighting: White LED fluorescent lights from end to end of the tank. Some hobbyist use pink lights to give the arowanna a deeper color. Surprisingly, with my setup, the color of my red tail gold arowana still showed its depth.

A Popular Monster Fish

Arowanas became popular because of the belief that they create luck and attract wealth. You will often find them in private business offices as well as commercial establishments. They are called the “king of aquarium fish.” I guess discus lovers will not agree with this.

They were once sold as food and the demand caused them to reach near extinction in the wild, though they were priced low when used for local cuisine. Realizing their other value later on, fish farmers started selling them for ornamental purposes.

Arowanas are also called “dragon fish” because of their scales and barbells, which are similar to those on popular depictions of dragons. They have a calm swimming style, confident even if kept alone in an aquarium. They are jumpers and break the water’s surface when they are in the wild to catch prey.

They are reputed to be the most expensive ornamental fish. Judging from what I have experienced on both the local and international market, I agree.

The top three most expensive fish are:

  1. The arowana. Even when young, arowana are already valued based on their farm origin and genetic history.
  2. Koi. Pattern, shape, and size are major factors determining the price range of koi. They breed in the thousands but the percentage of quality fish coming from these breedings are slim.
  3. Discus. Among the three, I find the discus the least hardy.

Looking Forward

Jardini, Banjar, and the black arowana used to be on my wish list but now, my eyes are fixed on the crossback and super reds. Where to get the best free information? From who else but with my good friend (and fellow Animal Scene contributor) Johnny Filart. My current RTG was acquired from him, and it has been with me for almost 12 years and counting.

He shared to me that if I was starting     on juvenile arowana—either the super red or crossback—patience is necessary. It will take 6-8 years to achieve the full coloration of the fish. Arowana with a well-maintained set up can live to 20 years. Buying an 8-year-old arowana is a good idea because you can almost see its true potential.

Buying an adult arowana comes with a higher price. Sometimes you can find a good deal by checking on online sellers who want to either upgrade the fish or completely change their existing tank setup.

They normally sell their adult fish almost at the same price of a juvenile. Johnny was generous in sharing with me his current arowana collections.

Having an RTG arowana is a wonderful experience. What I like about my RTG is its sheer confidence. I enjoy having it as a single tank specie rather than in a community for me to enjoy its majestic swimming movements. The RTG is classic with an artistic blend of its brown base, red tail, and solid gold scale color. My friends visiting me at home always stare and ask me about the fish. My family sits and enjoys talks with coffee in front of our tank. My nephew Cedric, who is into photography, takes beautiful pictures of my RTG that make me appreciate its beauty on a new level. I fully encourage every fish hobbyist to discover the art of keeping arowanas. Happy keeping!


This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s December 2017 issue.