Tropical fish club members swim deep into obsession

Staff photo / Ed Runyan Lisa Reel of Bazetta is shown near one of her 125 fish tanks in the basement of her home. The tank contains Cuckoo catfish and Electric Yellow fish.

Lisa Reel’s introduction to tropical fish was not that unusual. She won a goldfish at a fair when she was 5.

But something unusual did happen.

“It lived until I was like 13,” the Bazetta Township woman said.

“I started getting more fish, and it escalated to four or five tanks,” she said.

That led to a memorable day when her tanks leaked at the Warren home where she grew up.

“My mom wasn’t very happy when the water was coming through the ceiling,” Reel recalled.

Reel, who is treasurer of the nonprofit organization Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society, continued her aquarium hobby after marrying her husband, Jeremy Reel, and moving to Bazetta, where they have raised three children.

At first, her tanks were throughout the first floor of the home.

“My husband said, ‘There’s no room on the counter because of your fish tanks. We’re making you a fish room.’ ” It began with a space about 13 feet by 10 feet in the basement.

That has expanded about four-fold over the years and now includes about 125 tanks containing more than 500 fish. She and her husband have built racks out of various sizes of lumber to hold the various sized tanks. Her largest is 250 gallons.

Her fish room is maintained at a temperature of about 70 degrees. Two pumps provide oxygen for the tanks. There are lights above many of the tanks.

“I have really high electric bills,” Reel said.


Reel is one of about 50 members of the Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society, which was founded in 1972.

Today, its members come from the Mahoning Valley, northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania There are about a dozen tropical fish clubs in Ohio, according to aquaworldaquarium.com.

Because of COVID-19, most of the get-togethers and activities of the Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society and other tropical fish societies have been vastly curtailed most of the year, club secretary Joe Doyle said.

But most years, the Youngstown group has meetings in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church, 3654 Main St., Mineral Ridge, where speakers from around the United States talk about tropical aquariums, fish and plants and the trips they have taken. Each presentation usually includes images of fish and plants projected onto a screen.


People who participate in tropical fish societies typically own fish, but they also frequently breed their fish and compete in contests with them.

Some of the fish are rare, so in breeding them, “You feel like you had a hand in continuing the existence of this fish,” Doyle said.

Breeding fish requires some bookkeeping. Doyle said it includes submitting a report indicating how the person spawned the fish, “how you raised the fry, what type of food you fed, temperature, pH, hardness of the water.”

The club sells the fish, with proceeds going to the club to help pay for the meeting-room rental and things such as insurance.

Doyle said the organization allows people interested in tropical fish to talk about their hobby.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “When you talk to members of the club, it’s not unusual to find people who have 20 or 30 tanks in a room in their house.”

Doyle has a fish room at his house containing 15 aquariums of various sizes and shapes. His largest tank is 75 gallons.

“It’s a hobby,” Doyle said. “Every aquarist has a history. You have to ask each individual aquarist how he got started. Myself, I was 12 years old. And one my friends got an aquarium, so of course I wanted an aquarium.”


Reel said she and her daughters have enjoyed keeping a variety of kinds of animals over the years — lizards, snakes, cats, dogs, birds.

“I think my favorite pet was a chinchilla,” she said of a small, South American rodent that is considered active and playful.

But fish are her hobby.

“Some women collect shoes. Some women collect purses. This woman collects fish and fish tanks,” Reel said.

She acknowledges that keeping fish has become an “obsession,” but the time she spends with them is relaxing and fun.


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