Tools of the Trade:
Equipmentment & Techniques to Convert Your Fish to Frozen Food.
Greg Hix & Renee Coles-Hix
There are so many different tricks to try and convert your predatory fish to frozen fare. What works for one specimen may not work for another, or even the same fish on a different day, so although technique and persistence are definitely major factors, it’s not always a hobbyist’s skill level that converts the fish. That being said, there are some fish we can feed today that we may not have been able to convert a couple of years ago. Feeding these guys is a learned skill, so start with fish with the better odds of being converted to frozen, such as many lionfish species.
Getting the Food to Your Fish.
There are many tools one can use to get food to their fish, some are designed for such a function, while others are household objects fashioned for such an enterprise.
Kabob sticks or skewers are one of the more popular “tools of the trade”. They can hold a wide variety of food items and sizes.
They can be bent if you need to feed a fish that is difficult to reach or likes to hide in the rockwork.
While their popularity is indisputable, we have given up using them because we had three occurrences of what we have coined a “stick incident”, which
resulted in the fish becoming afraid of the feeding stick (“stick shy”).
They were already 100% converted to eating frozen from the stick and then, during a particularly aggressive feed, they bit the stick up past the food and held on. The 3 of them then decided to pull the “shark rag doll shake” which results in the point of the stick being thrashed around within their mouths. They would not let go. If this ever happens, don’t pull or try
to remove the stick; let them let finish and come off themselves. These fish, with the next feeding, refused to take frozen and had to be retrained. To this day, one of these fish has never retaken frozen and the others converted again after a couple of months.
To reduce the risk of injury, make the tip of the stick blunt and soak them in a little bottle of water while the frozen food is thawing.
Plastic Feeding Sticks
If you wanted to buy a “hobbyist grade” feeding stick, there are many options available to you.
Sticks with flat tips, bent tips, even spear tips are out there!!
We’ve never personally used the barbed-end feeding stick. It just reminds us too much of a harpoon.
Some people prefer to use tweezers and there are many options available to suit your needs. Short, long bent tips and plastic. These aren’t the best when dealing with small pieces of food or for harder to convert fish. They definitely are not a super stealthy method.
Lionfish Lair’s Stealth Stick™
Convincing a stick-shy fish to take from a kabob stick, or something else as obvious, is not an easy chore. If you think it’s hard the first time, it’s even harder the second. After turning three fish off to frozen, we had to come up with a gentler way. About that time, we obtained some notoriously “hard converters” and some really small specimens. This stick addressed the 3 issues; there is no chance of stick injury, it is clear so that it isn’t as readily seen and with the use of the fishing line you can thread the absolute smallest piece of food on there.
We use monofilament fishing line attached to a clear rigid stick. The 50lb weight works great and 110yds will last you a lifetime. The line costs a couple of bucks at your local sports shop. We use tape clear scotch tape instead of something more permanent, because the line gets rough after a while and the food doesn’t slide off as easily. We simply replace it with some new line and tape.
We also secure some length of line up the length of the stick and secure it in a few places so ensure there is no chance of the line sliding off to end up is the fish’s belly.
Lionfish Lair’s Stealth Stick™ was developed by us after experiencing the shortcomings of other food delivery methods and techniques. Over the years, we have had many stellar reviews of how well it has worked as a way for aquarists to wean their charges. Since imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and sometimes unscrupulous people profit from another’s idea, we are therefore proud to announce that we hold a provisional patent on the Stealth Stick™. Stay tuned for new and improved features of the Stealth Stick™ 2!
The “Let’s Go Fishing” Method
Some fish are not impressed with feeding sticks in the beginning. Now is the time to get creative and make this as realistic as you can. If your pred is big enough, try a whole food like a silverside or a lancefish. If they a little too big, cut off the tail. They seem not to notice the missing tail but will definitely be deterred by the missing head. Thread the food onto a fishing line attached to your choice of stick (kabob sticks are perfect for this). You will definitely get a more enticing “bait wiggle” with the stick verses just pulling on the string to create the “idea” of a live fish. Try different wiggles, if they look bored or turn their head, lead the food just out of sight and bring it back to again re attract their attention. Threading the line through the gills helps the fish from slipping off during the jerking motion. Leave a little extra line, about an inch or two, out of the other side of the fish.. Do not tie a knot at the end of the line, if the food cannot slide over it and the food has to be removed from the fish’s belly… you may have a live food eating pred for life. Another thing to keep in mind is to not bring the bait too close/directly in front of the fish, as it may be out of their field of vision. Make sure the fish can see the food item before moving it closer.
The Difficult Converters
Remember, there will always be those they are not impressed by your *jiggle-jiggle-shake-shake*. Dead anything is simply not recognized as food. Keep in mind, when buying these fish while still on live food, they may never convert… EVER! Note: Some of the following methods are not guppy/shrimp friendly. We do it when we have to and try to do it as humanely as possible.
The Net Method
Getting the fish to recognize the cue that food is present could be as easy as teaching them to recognize something like a net. You simply lower a live guppy or shrimp via net to right in front of pred in question. Many will climb into the net time after time to get their supper. This method also makes it easy in the future to catch them if you need to remove them from the tank!
Once they are jumping into the net readily, freeze a couple of the guppies/shrimp after feeding them a very nutritious meal… a “last supper” if you will. Thaw them out and place them in the net and in front of your hungry boy. When making this switch, give him a few non-eating days to make sure he’s really hungry. Some will jump right on to the frozen due to recognizing the food item itself. From there, if we were feeding guppies, we switch to silver fish flesh, like silversides, which looks similar to the flesh of a guppy. If we were feeding ghost shrimp, we would go to Piscine Energetics (PE) mysis. We often use the guppy method, because they seem to convert easier. Freshly dead guppies and the tails of silversides look very similar and can easily fool a finicky fish.
Frozen/thawed guppies can also be skewered on a feeding stick. It’s generally an easy transition from the dead guppy, to a silverside tail to other frozen foods.
Yet feeding guppies is just a conversion technique. If the session becomes prolonged, you’ll have to convert to ghost shrimp for a while to condition your fish before you give it another run.
Of course, there are some finicky specimens that will not make the jump from live to frozen and require a middle step. This step we find distasteful and we reserve it for those very difficult converters. This method is only good for guppies as your shrimp will not live through the process. Place the guppy in a small volume of water for 5 minutes in the freezer. They will live perfectly fine for this amount of time, albeit there will be little movement when they are first removed. Place your little ice cubes into the net and lower it. Your pred will look at it, recognize that something is wrong, but be curious. Slowly, the guppy will breathe faster and swim more and eventually your pred will pounce. Mix some dead and mildly frozen the next day and usually they will eat both in a confusion. After a few times switch to all frozen and then onto the last step in the paragraph above.
Training with ghost shrimp is the preferred method, for you don’t have to utilize the nutritionally inferior guppy. Freshwater feeders should be for freshwater fish, whenever possible. Some fish that eat invertebrates in the wild may not even recognize fish as a potential food item. Following a few tips, and preparing the shrimp adequately, is an easy and safe way to convert your pred.
When you bring your bag of shrimp home from the store, they will probably have the appearance of being well fed. This is why we put them in a holding tank overnight. You don’t even want to know what’s in their belly… old bacteria-filled fish poop, flesh of rotting fellow feeders, the Cheeto that someone dropped into the feeder tank (you get the idea). Live feeder food tanks are traditionally not the cleanest nor the healthiest kept tanks. In the morning, their holding tank floor is littered with the nasty output and your shrimp are now “blank” as we like to refer to them as. Feed your shrimp daily with a high quality flake food, change the water often and remove any dead shrimp as you see them. You don’t want them eating rotting friends and you don’t want them hungry because they will eat even their BEST friends. Keeping your food healthy will help keep your fish healthy.
When we introduce a live food item, as we mentioned earlier, we use another visual cue which helps with the association later on. Upon placing the feeder into the tank, we guide it with the feeding stick that we want the fish to eat frozen from later. After a while, they recognize the stick as meaning there is food nearby.
Once they show no fear of the stick, we move on to freshly killed and then to frozen thawed shrimp. Sometimes they make the jump from live to frozen ghosties, others require this additional step: we feed the shrimp an enrichment and then place them into the freezer. This is actually a kinder act than what they usually endure to end up on our BBQ kabob sticks, so don’t fret about it too much.
When presenting the thawed shrimp, it can be all about approach. Shrimp don’t fall from the sky, right? Sometimes the stubborn fish don’t recognize food that you present to them from above. When using the Stealth Stick™ referenced above, there is a way to mimic the shrimp crawling along the sandbed. The following video shows this in action.
If it took you any amount of time to get to this point, and your fish is a little on the skinnier side, stop and fatten him up. Feed enriched thawed ghost shrimp until you are happy with their weight. Then it’s on to other (easier) frozen foods, you don’t want to be feeding them ghost shrimp forever. After you have thawed a shrimp, pinch off the head and tail (or one at a time if you fish is particularly picky) while making sure to leave the gut intact which is found under the carapace. It’s easy enough to find for it should be brightly colored with your enrichment!
When they start to take this “minimized” frozen ghost shrimp, they pretty much should convert to fish flesh shortly thereafter.
Several Basic Tips.
If there are multiple people in your household willing to feed this animal… pick only one. If it’s a known difficult species like the Leaf fish, Fu Manchu, or Ambon, pick the person with the best skills and the most patience. With a single person there will be consistency that otherwise won’t be present.
Give a method the good ole college try before you deem it a failure and move onto the next method. If you keep flipping in between methods and techniques they don’t make the food connection as fast, if at all.
Give each try a long enough time to work as well. If your arm is not tingly-numb, you have not been trying long enough. If he looks bored, change up the jiggling pattern, lower it raise it, put it just out of view and then come back again.
Starve him a little… We’ve gone a week. If he doesn’t convert, we fill him up with live for a few feedings to strengthen him back up and then fast him again.
Present the food to him from the direction his mouth is turned. If his mouth is turned upward come at him from above. If his mouth is not, come at him from straight on.
If you fish is reluctant to come out in the open to eat, bring the stick to them, offer it behind a rock if they are there. The cover will give them a sense of security and make them more bold.
Try to feed at dusk when the lights are low and choose a food item that looks similar to that which they already take. If they are on guppies, try “small silversides” on an invisible stick at dark… he may make a mistake.
But above all else…..
Don’t give up!!