Roger Aziz Jr.: The Bullhead King
by Keith “Catfish” Sutton
No man knows more about catching giant bullheads than the “Bullhead King.”
Call him “The Bullhead King,” or just plain bullheaded. Either way, Roger Aziz, Jr. of Methuen, Massachusetts, will take it as a compliment. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country love bullhead fishing, but no one loves fishing for these pugnacious little catfish more than Aziz.
No one knows more about bullhead fishing, either, a fact exemplified by the many record bullheads Aziz has caught. He has established International Game Fish Association line-class records for yellow bullheads four times and for brown bullheads twice. The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame has recognized 10 brown bullheads he’s caught as line-class and all-tackle records, plus five yellow bullhead line-class records.
Aziz’s biggest bullhead to date was a 6-pound, 4-ounce yellow bullhead caught May 25, 2008, in 55-acre Forest Lake in Methuen. Twenty-three inches long with a 13-inch girth, that fish is the Massachusetts state record. (The currently recognized IGFA all-tackle world record is just 2 ounces heavier.) Aziz caught a previous Massachusetts record—a 3-1/2-pound brown bullhead—in 1985. To give you an idea how hard it is to catch a bullhead even that size, that record stood more than 20 years before being broken.
Aziz knows as much about catfishing, and particularly bullhead fishing, as any angler in the world. His tips will prove useful to anyone desiring to catch huge bulls.
Developing a Game Plan
“I started fishing for bullheads at an early age,” says Aziz, who was born in 1961. “Like sunfish, they seem to show up on your line no matter where you’re fishing. Most don’t get very big—maybe a pound or two. A 3-pound bullhead is quite unusual—equivalent to, let’s say, a 10-pound largemouth bass. When I started catching some bullheads that size, I knew I was on to something good. So I began my own research to learn more about the way these monster bullheads function.”
Although bullheads inhabit a variety of waters, Aziz determined that ponds stocked with trout tend to be home waters for the biggest.
“In New England, trout are stocked in two basic types of ponds: those that are spring fed and those that are not,” he says. “Most stocked ponds that are spring fed have a low fish kill rate. Trout thrive in these waters year-round. But ponds that aren’t spring fed tend to be eutrophic (rich in nutrients), with little or no trout survival due to oxygen depletion and other factors.
“The eutrophic ponds are best for bigheads,” he continues. “Dead trout lay on the bottom of the ponds, and something is going to eat them. Most likely, that something will be bullheads, which often consume carrion. And the more trout the bullheads consume—the more raw protein they eat—the bigger they get.”
In spring-fed lakes, natural trout die-offs are rare, but many trout still perish due to angling pressure and mishandling.
“Big bulls become more predator-like in these spring-fed lakes,” Aziz says. “But they still can be caught if you use the right tactics.”
The tackle Aziz uses is unfamiliar to many American anglers.
“I use Euro tackle,” he says, “the same stuff European anglers use for carp fishing. My rods are 13 feet long with a 3-3/4-pound-test curve. By American standards, this is a heavy-action rod with a fast tip, which provides enough loading power that I can catapult a bait rig great distances. My reels are bait-runner reels that allow the line to be pulled out by a fish without an open spool. These are loaded with 15-pound-test Berkeley Big Game Solar line tipped with a 40-pound-test, fluorocarbon shock leader 6 feet long.”
Aziz typically fishes from shore, using multiple rod/reel combos supported on Gardner stainless-steel rod pods, carp-fishing devices that allow rods to lie horizontally and be tended hands-free. Each pod is coupled with Delkim electronic strike alarms that detect the slightest line movement and rod vibrations. When a bullhead bites, these sound an alarm “loud enough to wake anyone from a deep sleep,” says Aziz.
On the business end of each fishing line, Aziz ties a tandem bait rig.
“Each rig consists of a No. 2 wide-bend hook followed by a Kahle hook varying in size from 2/0 to 5/0. The hooks are connected to each other by snell knots, all following IGFA rules.”
Unlike most catfish anglers, Aziz uses no lead sinkers on his rigs, or very small sinkers. His baits—bacon, sunfish or minnows—are sunk to the bottom with a bar of soap. Yes, soap.
“Soaping is a ground-bait technique I conjured myself,” Aziz says. “I take a bar of Dial soap, any exotic scent, and drive a home-made eye screw thru the whole bar. The soap is part of my fishing rig and acts as both a weight and an attractor. The scent is limited to a radius of a couple of feet in lakes or ponds, but it’s a real big bullhead attractant.”
Experimentation helped Aziz refine this tactic. He knew catfish rely heavily on scent to help them find food items. But experience showed that scent didn’t have to be from something dead and rotten like a trout carcass.
“I figured if I could attract carp with ground bait, a concoction of bread crumbs and other household foods, why not bullheads?” he says. “The ground bait used for carp works OK but dissipates quickly in water. I wanted an attractor that would melt slowly and attract anything swimming by. Soap turned out to be that attractor. I tested a variety of scents to see which would work better, and it turns out they all work very well. I use Dial soap because it’s very inexpensive and very heavy. I can cast it long distances, and it sinks quickly to the bottom. It comes in many sweet-smelling flagrances that attract monster bulls.”
To prepare the soap for rigging, Aziz takes a 6-inch piece of 40-gauge wire and grinds it flat on both ends. Then, using a wire-forming machine, he creates an eye on one end of the wire with a long wrap. The wire can then be pushed and screwed into the middle of the soap on one end. The wire wrap below the eye works like a screw to keep the soap secure.
The wired soap is attached to the main line via a swivel on a sliding fish-finder sleeve. The main line runs through the sleeve, with the sleeve held in place above the hooks using a small piece of plastic tubing crimped on the line. The hooks are then baited with pieces of bacon, small whole sunfish or minnows, or small pieces of cutbait prepared from the baitfish.
When fishing from shore, this whole rig is cast out, allowed to sink and sits stationary on the bottom while Aziz waits for a bite.
The Mad Monster Chase
Aziz’s monster bulls have been caught in several New England ponds and lakes. Waters in other states have produced giant bullheads as well, leading one to believe that an angler armed with the knowledge Aziz has shared here has a good chance of landing a new state, line-class, or world record somewhere within the range of these bantam brawlers.
“I’ve spent many years targeting bullheads,” says Aziz, “and find these fish, especially the big ones, are very fascinating. There’s much more to catching the big ones than many people think. I hope that by sharing some of what I’ve learned, others will be able to experience the thrill of catching a real monster bull. That’s an experience you never forget.”