If you’re like me, you utilize all resources at your disposal to find information about cichlids. This includes YouTube. In fact, there are numerous YouTube channels dedicated to fish keeping, especially cichlids. I visit several of them regularly.
One day a few weeks ago, while I was looking for some information, I stumbled across a YouTube channel I had not seen before. Intrigued, I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did. The channel is named after the guy who runs it – Ben Ochart, also known as Ben O’Cichlid.
What struck me about his channel was a few things. One, he is obviously passionate about fish keeping. Two, he doesn’t come across as pretentious but rather a very nice guy…the type of guy you would like to have a beer with and talk fish. Finally, he recently moved across the country and settled in Nashville, TN, which is only a couple of hours or so from me. So, what did I do? I e-mailed him and asked him for an interview. I can say that communicating with him has been a very pleasant experience.
A long-time fish keeper, this all got started when Ben shared online a video of a discus tank he had. Encouraged by the feedback he received, he decided to launch the YouTube channel. One thing led to another and he has become a full-on content producer. Rather than just static content, he also hosts a livestream on his channel, where he engages with other cichlidophiles. But he doesn’t stop there. He also shares his knowledge and experience on his Facebook page, called Ben O’Cichlid. Or you can go find him on Instagram at ben.o.cichlid. I encourage you to check out his entire social media portfolio. Meanwhile, on to the interview!
Your fish keeping evolved from regular tropical fish to cichlids. What are some important lessons that you’ve learned along the way?
Patience and the importance of research. Like many, I made a transition from one type of fish to another. In my case from discus to African cichlids. A cichlid is a cichlid, right? No, very wrong.
The family of fish called cichlids is enormous, and just because the word “cichlid” appears in the name does not mean that it is compatible with other cichlids I might already own or that it would survive in the same water parameters. A lot of hard lessons and losses lead me to value the importance of both patience and research.
What are a couple of cichlid species that you’ve never kept but really want to try your hand at and why?
This might sound backwards when you consider the popularity of this fish, but I would love to own a few Oscars. I really love the look of Red Tiger Oscars and albino Oscars.
I would also like to grow-out a Green Terror (Gold Saum). The first time I saw one it took my breath away, and I’m still trying to successfully keep one over a long period of time. I love the puppy-dog, interactive nature of both the Oscars and the Green Terrors once they put on size.
For readers who live near Nashville, describe the fish store and cichlid scene in the city.
I’m relatively new to the area but have already made some good friends in the fish keeping community. The local fish stores I’ve visited have been clean and well kept, and have impressed me quite a bit. Los Angeles was a bit of a fish store wasteland, and I would have to drive considerable distances to locate quality fish. It was common to see tanks and shops in messy, run down conditions. I haven’t run into that here. Tanks are usually in great shape, and the shops are very well kept. While in L.A., most of my stock was shipped to me by shops around the country. While attending Aquashella a few days ago in Orlando, Florida, I met a good number of local fish keepers, and I anticipate that my circle of fishy friends here in Nashville is going to far exceed anything I ever had going on in L.A.
You have a keen desire to give back to the cichlid hobby via your YouTube channel. For those who don’t know about your channel, what should they expect to see?
I really like to mix things up. I interview masters in their craft like food makers, tank builders, etc. I visit local fish stores and big box stores. I review products and I discuss everything from filtration to substrate to lighting. There’s a lot about both African and South American cichlids, and I’ve just finished a 90-gallon SA tank project.
What are some things about your YouTube channel that set it apart from other aquarium hobby channels?
A lot of the original African cichlid channels have diversified greatly. It’s understandable since doing so attracts a wider audience and gets more views, the final measure of success on YouTube. I’ve more or less stayed true to my focus on cichlids and continue to deliver on what inspired my original subscribers to subscribe to the channel. I certainly have some diversity coming up with projects like a planted community tank and perhaps a return to discus, but the primary emphasis will always be on cichlids with South American cichlids recently becoming an important part of the mix.
What are your future plans for the channel?
As you might know, prior to relocating from California to Tennessee I sold off all my fish and tanks. So, I essentially started from scratch in our new Nashville location. My future will continue to include the building out and setting-up of the fish room (my garage). I have electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and the setting up of tanks all being documented and uploaded as YouTube videos. Quite the adventure.
In the next few weeks, a custom built 210-gallon low-iron glass tank from Glasscages is going to be delivered. I’m having it drilled for a Bean Animal (a proven way of plumbing an overflow box that is both quiet and not prone to malfunction and flooding). It’s going to be quite the project. While documenting that adventure, I will continue to deliver the content my subscribers have come to expect including product reviews, tips, visits to local fish stores and live streams on Saturdays at 11am Central (the “Cichlids & Coffee” live stream series). I will also be delivering a video in collaboration with Glasscages that will show every step in building a rimless tank. From raw uncut glass to the final finished product. That should be exciting and quite fun.
That tank, the one that is going to be shown being built in the video, will probably end up as my planted community tank. Something totally new for my channel. I’m going to attempt to set one up that is to some degree self-sustaining with a deep substrate to house beneficial bacteria, plants to help with oxygen and nitrates, and a clean-up crew (snails, cory cats, etc). That project will be outside the norm for my channel and will no doubt generate a lot of interest.
For someone interested in starting their own YouTube channel on fish keeping, what are a few do’s and don’ts that you can share?
I recently released a video on this topic. There’s a lot to unpack here. I’ve been at it for several years and have experienced relatively good success but feel like there is still so much more to learn. One tip I would give is: START. Find something you love and start sharing your journey. Have fun with it. Don’t expect things to be perfect or generate a tremendous number of views initially. Don’t worry about fancy cameras, lighting, expensive mic’s. Just hold your phone horizontally, as steady as you can, and get going.
Learn from the viewer feedback while at the same time totally ignoring the negative trolls out there who post malicious comments. I used to try to engage and bring them around. It’s a waste of time. It’s best to just delete their comments and block them (a great feature on YouTube) and focus attention on those who enjoy the channel and who are sincere in trying to help you when they point something out that could have been done a little better. You will need a thick skin initially because there are a good number of viewers on YouTube who themselves produce nothing on the platform but love to criticize those who do.
Also, always maintain a willingness to learn. Watch videos about how to be successful on YouTube uploaded by those who actually are successful and then fit their advice into what you feel comfortable with and the message you’re trying to get across. YouTube is a great game once you learn how to play it. You make friends all over the world. There’s really nothing quite like it.
Because of your recent move, you are in the process of setting up a new fish room. Having the opportunity to “start over,” what are some things you learned from setting up the first fish room that you are doing differently this time?
KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid, LOL! When possible, I go bare bones simple. I’m getting great results with inexpensive and simple filtration equipment. I have sumps and canister filters that are just sitting there while relatively inexpensive sponge/powerhead and inexpensive hang-on-back filters are all I’m using. That being said, I’m using the best food I can get my hands on. The Cichlid Shack keeps me stocked up with Xtreme, which my fish go wild over. I mix in Piscine Energetics, spirulina and NorthFin. My fish get a variety of good quality nutrition and it seems to be working. If you like, you can share a special 10% discount code to the The Cichlid Shack with your readers. It’s “shackattack10,” and works with both food and fish purchases.
Here in Nashville, I have a dedicated space that I can call a “fish room.” In Los Angeles, my tanks were all over the house. It’s a real different scene here requiring steps I never had to consider back in California like proper electrical, heating, cooling, the installing of sinks/water sources, etc. It’s a lot of work, but when finished it’s going to be a great space that will provide me with freedoms I never had before when my tanks were in bedrooms and living rooms sitting on hardwood floors or carpet.
Anything else about your YouTube channel or the cichlid hobby that we haven’t covered that you would like to share?
Cichlids are my love but more importantly is the continued growth of our wonderful hobby. I strive to create content that is informative, simple to follow, helpful and encouraging. I share the ups and the downs and try to not paint the false impression that fish keeping is always going to be rainbows and unicorns. The ups and downs are all part of the hobby and I strive to keep it real in the hope that when viewers hit those inevitable set-backs they will push through them, learn, grow, and carry on in the hobby. I keep it real but deliver it all with the hope that it will encourage people to get into and stay in the hobby. I often receive emails that talked about how after watching one of my videos the viewer returned to keeping fish, or were able to weather a difficult patch. This gives me tremendous joy.
My YouTube channel has as its mission the growth of our hobby. I know how many abandon the hobby after suffering setbacks. Often those setbacks could have been avoided with some knowledge and perhaps some encouragement. I hope to be providing that.