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UK fishermen mourn passing of celebrity carp

News of the death of Benson, the monster carp, rippled through the British fishing community.
Image: Benson the carp dies
A picture from the Angling Times shows an angler posing with Benson the carp at Bluebell Lakes north of London in May 2008. Benson was believed to be Britain's biggest common carp. The carp was introduced into the lakes in 1995, and at the time of death weighed 64 pounds. The fish reportedly had been caught more than 60 times. Angling Times via EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

She was big. She was beautiful. And boy was she popular with the fishermen.

News of the death of Benson, the monster carp, rippled through the British fishing community. Enthusiasts used to flock to Benson's home, the Bluebell Lakes in Cambridgeshire, for a shot at yanking the 64-pound behemoth out of the water. Her sheer size and picture-perfect looks won the hearts of the readers of Angler's Mail, who voted her Britain's favorite carp in 2005.

"Money could not have bought Benson. She had that celebrity status," Tony Bridgefoot, the owner of Bluebell Lakes, was quoted as saying in The Times of London on Tuesday. "I can't stress how famous she was in the angling world. All fisherman wanted to catch her. It was the size of the fish, but also the fact that she was scale perfect. It looked as if the scales had been painted on."

Even so, U.K. media gave the fish's death unusually wide coverage. Benson's big, scaly belly took up most of the Times' front page under the caption: "Britain's best-loved carp, 1984-2009." Benson had been caught and released more than 60 times over the course of her estimated 25 years, and news channels broadcast reels of souvenir shots taken by Benson's captors alongside live interviews with distressed fishermen.

"It was here that everybody came to catch Benson," Zoe Whitehead told the BBC from the lakes, about 85 miles north of London. She said she was disappointed to hear of Benson's death, discovered last Tuesday when she was found floating on the water's surface.

"Being the first female to catch Benson would have been fantastic," Whitehead said.

It didn't hurt that the fish's death was sprinkled with a small serving of intrigue: Bridgefoot said Benson may have been poisoned by nuts, bait that can fatal to the fish if not properly processed. But in a brief telephone interview with the AP he said he still could not understand the extent of the coverage.

"Nobody is more surprised than me," he said. "It made the front page of the Times, for goodness sake."

Animal-rights group PETA took the opportunity to tack a moral onto this fishy tale.

"Will anglers now relate to that fillet on their plate, or is all this 'mourning' for Benson a lot of crocodile tears?" the group said in an e-mail statement.

"No one should be hooked on fishing, and fish shouldn't be hooked at all."