Saltwater Aquarium Fish Trap: How to Catch Reef Tank Fish

We’ve all been there. How to catch a fish in a reef tank? If you haven’t there is a moderate to extremely likely chance that you will be wondering how to get that fish out of your reef tank. It may have been an impulse buy gone wrong, or a wrasse that has taken a liking for cleaner shrimp, or even that one fish you painstakingly researched to make sure it was the right fit for your tank, only for it to become the thorn in your side. Thankfully gone are the days of chasing a fish around the tank with a net, and before you decide to go ahead and remove all your live rock, maybe consider a saltwater aquarium fish trap first.

how to catch saltwater aquarium fish

How successful are fish traps in an aquarium?

The success of a saltwater aquarium fish trap is determined by the fish you are trying to catch. Fish can be infuriating, particularly fish that you need to remove from your aquarium. By watching the behaviour of the menace you will be able to determine which type of trap might work.

Your success will also fall squarely on your shoulders. All aquarium fish traps require an astonishing amount of patience (unless you are already naturally patient), fast reaction times, some prep work, and a whole lot of luck with some fish too.

You will be pleased to know that I have managed to catch two offending fish (at different times) in fish traps. The success of each of these events was purely based on the fishes behaviour. The first I needed out was a Melanarius Wrasse that grew to like the taste of Blood Red Cleaner Shrimp. all of which had been living out their best lives until they were ripped asunder. Wrasse are by nature hunting fish, seeking out food in every corner of the tank. Mine was caught in a conventional trap with a sliding door after watching it go in and out after baiting the trap with food every evening. It must be said at this point that no other fish ventured into that trap apart from Anthia – it would never have worked for my Tangs and Foxface.

I did try a different sliding door trap at another time that my Foxface adopted as its temporary home. Unfortunately he was not the intended target. It was time to try a different tack.

Fortunately a new floating fish trap by Tankmatez had recently been introduced into the marketplace and it did the required job.

Do aquarium fish traps work?

This seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask, because that is what they are supposed to do, aren’t they? The simple answer is yes. And no. As discussed above, fish can be annoyingly indecisive (or decisive depending how you look at it). One type of saltwater aquarium fish trap can work amazingly well for one fish, but the same trap could be completely avoided by all other fish.

Unfortunately it may come down to trial and error. By way of easing the lack of success, I am going to suggest what I would do based on the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. Hopefully you won’t be asking, ‘How do you trap saltwater fish?’, for much longer.

I would look at their behaviour to determine how likely they are to venture into a trap. If they are the type of fish that is always on the hunt, like a Wrasse, or holds back from the feeding frenzy, I would try a trap with a sliding door.

If they are the type of fish that readily comes to the front to feed, either to be fed by hand or to pick at food stuck to the glass, I would suggest a floating trap.

I bet you must be guessing by now that it is not always that simple, and you would be right. We all have some fish that are skittish and hold back. Mine is a Yellow Tang that will go nowhere near anything new in the tank. If my intention was to catch my Yellow Tang I think I would need to begin by luring it over to the trap over a few weeks by placing all food in the trap.

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How do you catch saltwater fish in an aquarium?

Once you have decided on your type of fish trap, the best course of action is to do a few dummy runs to determine the ultimate effectiveness. This will quickly give you a good idea of what is in store for you and how easy or difficult the task will be. You may be extremely lucky and catch your fish quickly, but that is a rare occurrence.

Below are some helpful points to help the process along.

Sliding door trap

  • If using a saltwater aquarium fish trap with the sliding door don’t be tempted to set it immediately. Rather make sure the trap is open and accessible to all for at least 3 days. This will help the fish feel comfortable with going in and out of the new addition.
  • Test the sliding capability of the door before putting it into action. The doors on these type of traps can be prone to becoming stuck if used incorrectly. Make sure you know how to trigger the trap successfully.
  • Choose an unobtrusive part of the tank to set your sliding door trap. A front corner will do just fine allowing you to see the fish going in and out, and triggering the catch when possible.
  • Don’t expect a sliding door trap to sit comfortably anywhere. They are normally larger than expected. Mine was propped up on live rock and up against the front glass.
  • Wait to see if your intended target swims into the trap willingly without the trap being baited.
  • If the target fish is not interested, start baiting the trap at feeding time.

Floating trap

  • Like the sliding door trap, the fish will need some time to get used to the new addition in the tank. Put it in the desired position and leave it there for at least 3 days.
  • The floating trap is reliant on fish being enticed into it. I did not have a single fish swim willingly into the floating trap without the promise of food.
  • Make sure you use the trap to feed your fish, and hope that your target fish takes the bait.
  • When you have seen that the fish is comfortable going in and out of the floating trap with you standing there, and your hand on the magnet, you know its game over for the offender.

The best you can hope for is at some stage, using either type of trap, and with a bit of patience and strategy, you will have your prize. The last thing you want to do is pull out all your live rock and upset the delicate balance you have achieved so far.

What is the best fish trap?

Now to the crux of the matter.

As you have already discovered (if you have managed to read everything preceding this heading), the best fish trap ultimately depends on the the fish you want to catch.

IceCap Fish Trap

Not only will the success of the fish trap be determined by the temperament of the fish, but you also need to decide which size is the more suitable. It might be worth considering getting the next size up. You never know, you may need to remove a larger fish at some stage in the future.

The IceCap Fish Trap above disassembles in minutes for easy storage. It is held in place by two suction cups and is triggered by a fishing wire attached to the sliding trap door.

You may need to place food into the trap to get your fish into it.

Tankmatez Bubble Fish Trap

Again, you have the option of small to large (4″, 6″ and 8″). This Tankmatez trap is secured via suction that is remotely released with an airline. When your target fish swims into the bubble you release the suction. The bubble immediately ascends to the water surface with the foam opening facing upwards. The pesky fish is essentially caught in a floating fishbowl.

With trickier fish you will need to encourage them into the bubble with a bit of their favourite food.

Nyos Floating Fish Trap

The Nyos Floating Fish Trap works in a similar way to the Tankmatez trap in that once released from the glass it will float up to the surface. However, instead of being secured by suction, it is held in place with a magnet.

The recomended glass thickness for this trap is 8-15mm

If you have particularly shy fish, the manufacturer suggests tying fishing line to the magnet so that you can operate it from a distance.

Best way to catch aquarium fish

This question might seem redundant given the options of fish traps provided above, but this is geared more at those of you who are struggling, or feel like you are going to struggle to catch the menace of a fish.

I have briefly mentioned the Yellow Tang I have that would go nowhere near either of the fish traps I used successfully. In fact it would not leave the opposite side of the tank at all. But I figure there is always a way to win a troublesome fish over.

  • Feeding times: your fish are reliant on your feeding time table. They will even start congregating at the front of the tank at the right time of day. You can use this to your advantage, but add your saltwater aquarium fish trap into the mix. Only feed from the fish trap. Hunger should override caution sooner or later.
  • Schedule feeding times: This goes hand in hand with feeding times. If the offending fish is being truly difficult, it may be worth reducing the schedule to once a day, or once every other day. Your fish will not starve, but they will be more motivated to eat, and overcome caution.
  • Feed at a convenient time: If you go off to work every morning, the last thing you want to do is feed just before leaving. You are training the fish to accept food from a trap that you won’t be there to trigger. Rather choose to bait the trap once you have the time to trigger it.

Eventually your target fish will feel there is no other way but to go into the trap and take the food offered. When that happens, don’t panic and release it immediately, that may spook it. Let it get used to the fact that no harm will come to it, and when it is completely relaxed going in and out you can grab your chance.


It would be a fair assumption to make that with a saltwater aquarium fish trap, you are very likely to succeed in removing that one fish you regret adding…unless you are have completely bottomed out on luck. 

Hi, my name is Craig.
I am the owner of The Salty Side.
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Saltwater Aquarium Fish Trap: How to Catch Reef Tank Fish