John Carlin interview

John Carlin – producer and host of Fincasters YouTube channel.


If you’ve ever conducted a Web search for anything, you understand how serendipitous it can be. I unintentionally stumble across new and exciting information all the time when I’m searching for various things. It’s the same when I’m looking on YouTube for a video of some kind. In fact, serendipity is what’s responsible for this interview.

I don’t recall exactly what I was looking for, but several months ago I came across this great YouTube channel called Fincasters. Described as “…your video fish fix,” the channel is where excellent video production meets various aspects of the aquarium hobby. Who could ask for more? Covering marine and freshwater, videos range from the installation of monster aquariums to coral propagation to cichlid species spotlights.

Meet John Carlin, the man who produces and hosts Fincasters. I reached out to John a few weeks ago about appearing on the blog, and he graciously agreed.

The Cichlid Stage: How would you best describe Fincasters if you were soliciting new viewers?I would call it a video magazine.  If you think of the topics you see in various aquarium magazines, then you know what you might find on my channel and on my website. I will touch on anything from planted aquariums, to reefs, to profiles of interesting and rare species of fish, to interviews with some of the people who really drive the hobby.  I also have a section called “Tentacles” where I talk about how the aquarium hobby touches the environment.  A negative example would be invasive species, where people release their fish back into the environment (e.g., Snakeheads, Lionfish).  Positive examples would be aquarium companies helping re-build coral reefs and supporting organizations like the Coral Restoration Foundation and Project Piaba.

My blog at is emerging.  It’s often more timely than some of the videos and reflects my successes, failures, and of course my thoughts.

TCS: What was the motivation or impetus for you to start Fincasters?

As you may know, my full time job is being a television news anchor.  My entire career, which started in 1983, has been shooting, editing and writing video stories for television.  I’ve also been a fish geek since I was about 7 years old, catching sunfish from the river and trying to keep them in a bucket or an aquarium.  As an adult, my son Ben and I became customers at the local reef shop, and when it came on the market, we bought it.  Eventually we sold it, keeping the maintenance side of the business.  Today Carlin Aquarium Systems is Ben’s full time job, and the business is still growing.  Our largest account is Center in the Square, where we maintain a reef system that is pushing 8,000 gallons, a 400 gallon seahorse aquarium, twin floor-to-ceiling jellyfish cylinders, and a 400 gallon Amazon predator tank.  We also raise and sell corals in the system and return 100-percent of the profits to the general fund of Center in the Square.  Those who are interested should check out

With the advent of YouTube, Fincasters emerged as a natural combination of my two passions.  I try to take the story telling techniques I learned in television and bring that to a YouTube audience.

TCS: Most people have no idea how much effort is required to produce quality videos like yours. Tell the readers what all goes into producing Fincasts, as you call them.I appreciate you noticing this.  I couldn’t do it unless I really enjoyed it.  It takes about 8 hours to produce a single Fincast.  Sometimes it’s less, but not often.  I spend a lot of time shooting video and sometimes working on still photography.  My recent Fincast on red cherry shrimp included some still shots I really liked, but I probably spent three hours just shooting, uploading and post producing the stills.   I’m always comparing my work on Fincasters to what we do at the TV station, where the equipment is top of the line and the staff is incredible.

Sometimes it’s hard to measure up.  I have to find a level of quality that I can live with when it comes to the video, editing, and hosting. I feel like can’t just throw something out there and be happy with it. On the other hand, it’s mostly a hobby, and I have to save some time for the actual care of the aquariums, and – my wife points out – the rest of my life.

There’s a quality/quantity equation to take into consideration.  I see lots of videos that are hand held, no special lighting or audio — with someone talking the viewer through a set up, demonstration or showing off a rare fish, and they get lots of views and plenty of “thumbs up.”  Many of these are very watchable and enjoyable.  That’s just not my style.  And honestly — I enjoy pushing the production values and sharing my information in my own way.

TCS: How do you decide the focus or subject of your Fincasts?

Usually, it’s what interests me at the moment.  If I’m on a reefing kick, then you’ll see the latest on whatever I’m adding or subtracting from my 120g reef.  Viewers seem to really like fish profiles, so I’m always looking to share information on any new fish.  Of course, I’m always looking for an excuse to bring another new fish into one of my systems.  I also have a soft spot for planted tanks, and cichlids.  I just set up a desktop jellyfish tank, so that was the topic for the last week of February.   I can tell you that my analytics suggest cichlids are the most popular with viewers.  I tend to go back and forth with respect to African vs. New World cichlids.  Right now I’m more inclined to be keeping South American cichlids.

I’m also an opportunist.  So if I go to a trade show or consumer show and someone is showing something really interesting, like a $20,000 angelfish, or a rare coral, I’ll do an interview and use the opportunity to video or photograph the fish.  Those videos are typically quite popular.

I’ve also enjoyed doing interviews with people like Rick Biro.  He grows cichlids on a farm in Florida for wholesale now, but years ago he was one of the first people to bring African cichlids to the United States.  He even named a number of them – Kenyi, VC-10, Zebra etc.  Not only does he know everything you can imagine about the various species but he has fascinating stories about traveling to Africa — (in one case not knowing he was in a dangerous area because of hippos.) finding these fish for the hobby, developing the contacts, and bringing them to the U.S.  At the end of the day, I’m still a reporter and I love it when I find someone with a good story.

PictureNeolamprologus tretocephalus. Photo courtesy of John Carlin.

TCS: Fincasters now has well over 100 episodes. What are a couple of your favorites and why?

I tend to prefer the Fincasts that deal with livestock as opposed to equipment.  A lot of people enjoy tinkering with filtration and other hard goods.  My joy comes from sharing the behaviors and habitats of the fish and inverts.  Of course, you need the right equipment and products to create those environments – so it’s always a means to an end. Having said that, videos about unique fish like the Tanganyikan Goby Cichlid or the Black Widow Frontosa are good examples.  Because aquarium space at home is always at a premium, I tend to prefer dwarf cichlids to the larger ones, so segments on Leleupi cichlids or the Dwarf Flag Acara are good ones.  On the marine side, the Pinnatus batfish video is cool, and I really like the video of the walking dendro, which is a coral that lives on a worm that pulls it around the bottom of the aquarium.

TCS: You’ve shot many episodes of cichlids, what are some of your favorite cichlids and why?

I really like discus, but they don’t like me.  More specifically, they don’t like my water.  Same for Apistogrammas.   They don’t do well long term in my aquariums, and my schedule (ok — and my personality) doesn’t permit me to stay focused on additives the way I need to be. I’m intrigued by the water parameters I’ve been able to establish with the AquaVitro Aquasolum substrate in my new freshwater shrimp tank.  There may be more discus in my future.  My current favorite cichlids are the Gold Rams and Geophagus that live in the 55g in my office.


Planted shrimp tank with Aquasolum substrate. Photo courtesy of John Carlin.

PictureNeolamprologus tetracanthus. Photo courtesy of John Carlin.

TCS: Describe the various aquariums you currently have, including those in your fish room if you still have it. 

I currently have a 55g planted aquarium with CO2 injection that has a mixture of cichlids, plecos, loaches, rummy nose tetras, and Australian threadfin rainbows in addition to a cool farlowella cat that I’ve had for several years.  The Geophagus and a single discus are the stars of that tank.

I also have a 55g planted freshwater shrimp tank, with neocaridina species such as red cherry shrimp.  I’m anxious to do more with this aquarium, as I’m new to shrimp keeping.  It’s way more engaging than I expected.

My fish room is losing a battle with my wife who wants the space for storage.  (Sound familiar?)  Right now it houses only a 20g long with a few odd cichlids.  At one point it had five aquariums ranging from 10 to 29 gallons, with various species of fish and a quarantine tank.

My 120g reef occupies a great deal of time and money.  I really enjoy the marine side of the hobby and invest a lot of time in the fish and corals in that aquarium.  And I just added a 2-gallon jellyfish cylinder to my office – which is pretty cool.

In addition, there is a Figure Eight puffer 20g high tank on my desk at the tv station.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only news anchor in America who can claim that.

PictureDwarf Flag Acara. Photo courtesy of John Carlin.

TCS: Describe your ultimate cichlid aquarium set up?

It would be a tank 6-8 feet long, 240 gallons — planted, and big driftwood — with discus and schools of South American tetras.  Big schools of rummy nose and probably cardinal tetras.  There would be several pairs of dwarf cichlids occupying other parts of the aquarium.  Apistos, Dwarf Flag Acaras, maybe Rams. There would be a school of cory catfish as well.  Not sure what species, but a school for sure.  I’ve never had a tank where I could make the cory cats school the way I have read that they do.   I really like to have a balance in my tanks with the appropriate fish in all parts of the water column.  I always need a few oddball, niche fish as well like the farlowella catfish or something you only notice in the aquarium occasionally.

TCS: Tell the readers about your next cichlid focused Fincast.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be setting up an aquarium for either discus, apistogrammas, or both.  As I mentioned above, with the Aquasolum substrate – which creates, soft, acidic water conditions  (pH about 6.8 and a KH of 0-2 and GH 1- 4 with my tap water) – I may be able to do a low tech planted tank that would make these fish happy.  I’m also looking at a 75g option for one of our clients that would be all male Peacocks/Aulonocara with lots of Texas holy rock.  This tank has the potential to be a showstopper.  The set up of this tank would make an excellent Fincast.

TCS: Would you welcome suggestions from the readers on what to cover in a future Fincast? If so, how should they get in touch with you?

I always welcome thoughts of any kind from readers or viewers.  They can respond with comments to any of my videos, follow me on Instagram (Fincasters), Facebook (Fincasters), Twitter @fincasters, or send me an email at

I’m always open to suggestions and ideas.  My only real constraint is space in my aquariums.
I’m interested in finding a way to add more tank tours to the website.  I know people have great tanks, and more and more hobbyists are able to do basic video editing.  Good cell phone video/stills are usually enough to give viewers a tour.   What does the blogosphere think?