NILES — Rob The Fish Guy Williams has loved aquariums his entire life.
“My dad had a fish tank and I just thought it was the coolest thing, and when I was at his house I was always in front of his fish tank,” Williams said.
Williams, 40, has 35 active aquariums at his home in Niles. Some are filled with his favorite tropical fish, which he shows competitively as a member of the Greater Akron Aquarium Society, and others are used to quarantine fish for his clients’ aquariums.
After working in the restaurant industry since the age of 14, Williams decided to do what he loved most and started his business, Awesome Aquatics, one year ago this month. While still working part-time at Olive Garden in Niles, Williams now maintains more than 20 aquariums for businesses and families using tricks and skills he’s learned over the years.
When it comes to maintaining a good tank, “Water changes are key” Williams said. “I don’t like to overmedicate…I like to treat the fish naturally.”
The Awesome Aquatics logo features two fish—a betta and an angelfish—which tells the story of how Williams got his start.
He was 9 years old when he got his first fish, a betta, and he hasn’t been without an aquarium since.
The angel fish, Williams said, represents his late grandmother and aunt, two women who supported him and are his “guardian angels”.
Williams said he often went to the pet store with his grandmother, Hazel Williams – she bought dog food – and picked out fish. She made sure Williams was responsible with his fish and he changed the water regularly.
His aunt Patty Williams, who was also very supportive, died last year after a battle with dementia.
“I really wish they would see Awesome Aquatics for what it is,” Williams said.
Williams won her title The Fish Man after donating an aquarium to Briarfield Manor in Austintown. Residents there know Williams from his aquarium maintenance visits.
“They’ll see me and say, ‘Oh, that’s the fish man, the fish man is here.’ Williams said.
He said for residents who are in decline, the fish often bring back memories — which he likes to see because they remind him of his aunt. Briarfield staff told Williams residents to sit in front of the tank for hours.
“You can literally just forget your problems and relax,” Williams said.
Currently a member of the Greater Akron Aquarium Society, Williams was formerly part of the Youngstown Area Tropical Fish Society. Both clubs have regular meetings, often with expert speakers.
“You meet people who travel the world collecting wild tropical fish, and they breed fish that are particularly difficult to raise,” Williams said.
In addition, the clubs participate in fish exhibitions. Fish shows are about presenting fish that best represent their species, which can involve a lot of care, Williams said. Fish are divided into classes and displayed against similar fish for prizes.
Williams’ favorite fish are South American — his dream trip would be to visit the Amazon rainforest — and he’s especially fond of South American cichlids, he said.
Williams also keeps some rare fish that are extinct in the wild. If those fish were to be reintroduced to their native habitat, he could donate a breeding pair to help the cause, he explained.
A 2000 graduate of Niles McKinley High School, Williams played the xylophone in the marching band during his high school years.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Williams filmed a virtual band night for area schools, traveling to seven counties to film band performances, he said.
“It was the only way the kids could see each other’s performances,” Williams said. “That’s the fun of marching band.”
He is now a video operator for the Lakeview Bulldogs Marching Band — “other entertainment”, Williams said, though he admits his enthusiasm for the video pales next to that love of the fish.
“Aquariums are exactly what I’m really interested in and what I want to do with my life.” Williams said.