Since founding the blog, we’ve been thrilled to be invited to a number of retail outlets with a view to bringing you our unique blend of photo shoots and honest, no-nonsense reviews. To date, we’ve focussed mainly on typical ‘shop’ type set-ups and we’ve been most impressed by what we’ve seen in general. For our next review, we turn our attention to a slightly more unconventional operation, but one that’s already built a phenomenal reputation and outlived many of its competitors.
Founded in 2005 and based in Eccles, just next to the M60, on the western outskirts of Manchester, Fishmansfrags isn’t your typical retailer and is actually run out of owner Chris Stott’s home. Don’t let the relatively unassuming domestic façade fool you though! As soon as you enter the premises and lay eyes on the 12 foot coral bay that dominates Chris’s lounge you immediately realise that this is one serious operation that puts the frag collections on offer in many large fish stores to shame. Lit by halides, and with hundreds of colourful frags laid out neatly on egg-crate, and some larger ‘mother colonies’, this system is literally a ‘sweet shop’ for coral afficionados. Furthermore, it’s evidently run by a man who is both an expert trader and an approachable and knowledgeable hobbyist to boot. As we shoot the halide lit system, Chris points out rows of particularly healthy looking LPS frags and explains “as a mainly mail order operation, we are fully equipped to serve the whole of the UK and we offer lots of comeback with our 100% live arrival guarantee. We can also offer any information you want for our shipments, customers just need to give me a ring. The most important thing though is that we only offer frags that are healthy and well established… completely healed, feeding and showing good colour. We don’t just frag a coral, stick it on a plug and then sell it the next day like some places! We are fairly unique in being able to do this as we’ve taken the time to build up a rolling programme of stock which allows us to offer the very best quality frags consistently… just take a look at any of the UK forums and you can see that we are the real deal”. Going online confirms this and take note that the hub of Chris’s operation, the website, features not only a great selection of ‘what you see is what you get’ coral frags and critters, but also live chat support, useful acclimatisation info and the whole site is fully ssl encrypted from logging on to purchase. Prices are also very competitive and, as said, the variety and volume of stock is impressive. It’s also nice to see extras such as multiple heat packs included as standard in cold weather, and Chris is even including free packs of Epo-putty with certain items.
Moving upstairs next, we enter the second room which contains four 4 foot systems and one 6.5 foot system rammed with sps and lps frags and some stunning clams ranging in size from a few inches up to XXL blue/green Ultra Maximas. As with the previous stock, the quality of frags here is top notch with every kind of SPS coral you can imagine (and some you can’t) on display. Some of the guts of the system are located in this room too, notably a huge AquaMedic skimmer that’s taller than me, and a Schuran Calcium reactor. Slightly unnervingly, the Caulerpa/DSB sumps are tucked away above us in Chris’s loft and this means that they act as giant overhead refugia that provide huge amounts of plankton. Of course this is bound to benefit the corals and maybe what makes them so healthy and fast growing. The clams are real showstoppers too, sourced from reputable import operation Amblard. In terms of lighting, Chris uses a mixture of T5s and Halides but is also experimenting with LEDs. We find his cautious and methodical approach indicative of a person who really knows their stuff when it comes to coral care and it’s no surprise to learn that Chris has been keeping SPS since the mid-90s.
Moving back downstairs, the final ‘theatre of operations’ is an outbuilding where the critters are kept. With 3 large banks of large tanks, this is probably the most extensive selection of clean-up crew we’ve seen in one place with a huge range of species here too from the common, to unusual species like two Purple Mine Urchins, a species we haven’t seen offered anywhere else. To the untrained eye, many may look just like standard hermits or snails, but again it is evident that Chris really knows his stuff here and he explains that he only stocks certain species of either based on their suitability for reef tank use. In addition to several species of hermits and snails there are plenty of other critters too – cowries, conches, cucumbers, fanworms, urchins, crabs, cleaner shrimp and blood shrimps – and there are numerous floating traps within the tanks too which contain, on our visit, some lovely large pistol shrimps, some Sulphur Watchman Gobies, lobsters, sexy shrimps and more. As well as being priced way below what you may expect to pay in an average fish store, Chris is also including a basic acclimatisation kit with certain critter packs which again is a nice touch.
In conclusion, we really enjoyed our visit to Fishmansfrags and even came away with a few frags ourselves for the test tank which we’ll be reporting on in the near future. If you are in the market for some really well priced and healthy corals that you can sit back and watch grow in your reef, or if it’s just a far more varied selection of critters than you’ll find at most LFSs that you seek, we highly suggest you keep your eyes on the website and certainly consider them for your next purchase – we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
TAKE A LOOK AT MORE SHOTS FROM OUR VISIT IN THE GALLERY BELOW.