"It's all about eliminating known risks"
Keeping captive bred Discus for six weeks or so is indeed very easy, its after this initial period that many trying the species for the first and even second time experience problems...and it really shouldn't happen.
In recent times there have been some really significant forward steps with Discus, both in husbandry and genetics. Long gone are the days when your only choice was some expensive wild caught fish, or a few F1 mutations. The vast majority of Discus available today be they Asian or European bred fish are several generations removed from the wild.
Now some purists will argue that this diminishes the challenge of the species, whilst many will argue that the availability to all of good, healthy fish at reasonable price enhances the hobby. Whatever your opinion there has never been a better time to start keeping Discus.
Unfortunately an area that has failed to keep pace is books, most Discus books are translated from German and were first published in the 1980s and early 1990s. Therefore much of what they convey is outdated and things have moved on. The biggest irritation to me is that they all with out exception conclude that Discus are difficult, indeed at the time of writing this was the case, but no longer is.
There are some modern books available originating from the far east, these are a much better option as they give not only up to date advice, but also the advances in printing, particularly of photographs, is exploited to the full.
Magazines, especially the Practical Fishkeeping, have the ability to move with the times and also to interact with fish keepers directly.
A fairly new source of information is internet chat rooms and bulletin boards, these can provide useful information and hours of amusement and the odd argument, but do bear in mind the internet is unregulated and information gathered must be very carefully considered.
I have always advised buying the biggest Discus you can afford as generally larger fish, say 12cm and over, will settle better when removed from the security of a shoal and also what you see in terms of colour and shape are what you get.
At the same time I understand why people want to buy small fish and watch them grow. This in my opinion is a risky option as small fish fry to 10cm really do need a shoal of fish around them to feel secure, also they require a very balanced, high protein diet coupled with generous water changes to grow properly. Too often small fish simply go backwards and wither away because their basic needs are not met.
The water requirements of Discus is where the biggest change has taken place, gone are the days when only very soft acidic water was your only hope. It is very common for the most stunning fish to live and thrive in calcium rich water with a slightly alkaline pH.
Europe's top breeder for instance keeps his fish at:
pH 7 - Gh 15 - Kh 8 - conductivity 800µS - temp 30C
The only time very soft, acidic water is used is for breeding and conditioning wild fish. Most Asian fish are also more comfortable in soft, acidic water.
There is of course more to water than pH and hardness. Discus are still sensitive to dissolved metals, organics etc, most of which are present in domestic tap water. A prudent Discus keeper will use either a Reverse Osmosis or a carbon filter to eliminate these. An RO will remove high percentages of everything, including the calcium and mineral content, which need replacing to sustain aquatic life by adding either a small percentage of tap water or an electrorite, such as API RO - rite. A carbon filter will reduce chlorine and metals but will not alter the pH or the hardness. In an ideal world you mix water from the two filters for a perfect solution, however in many areas, including my own it is necessary only to use a carbon filter, no need for an RO. In other areas, particularly cities an RO is essential.
Some water supplies now have Chloramines present. Chloramines are extremely dangerous to aquatic life. There are filters used in Kidney dialysis that removes chloramines and if your water board adds Chloramines then the use of one is prudent.
There is a very simple solution to water supply / parameters required - match yours to that of the Discus supplier or breeder. Ignore books, ignore the bloke down the road who kept Discus ten years ago - simply copy an existing set up, including aquarium husbandry, number and percentage of water changes, etc.
Decor And Substrate
Just about all Discus will have been born and raised in bare bottomed, featureless tanks with a large shoal of fish around them for security. In a living room situation a bare bottomed tank is going to take some selling to other members of the family, so many aquarists will go for a planted tank with bits of bog wood and so on. This is of course fine, but do be aware of the extra maintenance to keep the plants alive and growing, also leave plenty of open swimming space or you may never see your Discus again! - Bog wood should be sealed to prevent tannins and possible toxins leaching into the water.
It is a myth to argue that Discus only like dimly lit aquaria. Grolux tubes have been a long term favourite of Discus keepers as they enhance the red and blues, however plants have needs too and full spectrum tubes such as Triton and even the new T5s are used by many without any problem at all.
Another myth is that Discus will only tolerate still water conditions, indeed these are a requirement for a breeding pair, but young fish love a water flow, many customers have told me how they notice their fish swimming near to a filter return. I would offer that this is the place where the water is richest in oxygen and also where many aquarist will drop the food at feeding time!
Healthy Discus spend all day grazing for food, any fish not actively seeking food is sick. Discus eat a lot of food, too many people under feed their fish and this will result in health problems. Your "day" will (to a great degree) dictate how often you can feed your fish, but three times a day would be adequate - Discus only have small stomaches and process food quickly, so small meals at regular intervals is preferred to one or two big feeds. Just ensure that all the food is eaten and provide them with a varied and balanced diet. There is little need to risk live foods with the huge choice of frozen, dried and freeze dried foods available in the shops.
It is probable that more fish are killed by adding the wrong medication to a closed aquarium than by any illness itself. If you have a mature filter, good water source and healthy fish to begin with, there is actually little that could go wrong with your fish. Illness is nearly always bought on by stress caused by incorrect water conditions and so on. Unless you are absolutely sure that adding a medication will ease a problem - DON'T - keep hands out the tank so to speak and you will be amazed at how healthy your fish will remain. Again avoid books because believe me after reading the health section you will assume your fish has every conceivable ailment! Which of course is never the case.
Please rmember to quaranteen all Discus if adding to established tank containing Discus