Nick Tobler has two main interests: fish keeping and underground exploring. They’re niche enough that when he made a TikTok account (@cowturtle) in 2021 to share footage of sea creatures he thought were cool, he didn’t expect to become a viral sensation. But then he started building an eel pit. More specifically, on March 24th, he uploaded a TikTok captioned, “My new house comes with a future eel pond!”
At the time, Tobler was just showing off a cistern that supplied drinking water to the house built over three decades ago. But where others may have seen an old vat, he saw an eel pit. And so, he started documenting his building process on TikTok. Before he knew it, Tobler had 344,000 people eagerly awaiting the arrival of the eels to his human-made pond.
Then, after months of anticipation, Tobler announced the news everyone was waiting for. “We have eels! First look, we have our eels!” an excited Tobler exclaimed. At long last, the 11 eels had arrived. Tobler celebrated by letting his followers help choose the names of his new guests, including “Eely Dan,” “Eelaine and “Crunchwrap Supreme.”
Throughout his eel-pit building journey, Tobler has gotten used to being a micro internet celebrity, and all the inevitable fan thirst that comes with it — e.g., he quickly received the nickname “Eel Daddy,” which, truth be told, isn’t his favorite nickname. “My mom called me it, and I was like, ‘Ugh, I don’t like it,’” he tells me.
And while he’s not getting stopped at the supermarket for autographs, he does occasionally find people offline who have been influenced by his journey. “While we were in the Everglades catching fish just last week, there was this guy camping next to us,” he says. “We were going to go out to look for snakes, and he wanted to join us. I caught a fish and mentioned it would be cool to add it to my eel pit. He was like, ‘Did you guys see that TikTok with the eel pit?’ I told him, ‘That’s me!’”
But inherent to all internet trends is the misinformation that goes along with it, which Tobler would like to clear up. First of all, the pit isn’t in his basement. And no, he’s not really the owner of the house — it’s his brother’s. And in terms of the type of ray-finned fish that are now wiggling about in his pond, instead of going the supervillain electric eel route, Tobler opted for North American eels. Because he has experience running an aquarium shop and knows “way too much about all fish,” he wanted to make sure the eels would be comfortable in cold weather. (Tobler lives in Cincinnati where the temperature can drop below zero in the winter.)
Along those lines, in his TikToks, the cistern looks massive, but Tobler says it’s actually eight feet deep, and the water’s depth is just 16 inches — plenty of room for his eels and also his two crayfish and water slider to hang around. He also set up an area with a foldable chair so he can sit back and watch the eels.
You know, just like the rest of us.