A steel sturgeon will surface today at the Oregon State Fair. The 18-foot monster is a sculpture created by volunteers at Clatsop Community College.

"People often come to the fair wanting to know where the big fish is," said Anne Pressentin Young, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We used to have a live one." A 12-foot sturgeon to be exact - Herman the sturgeon. During the two weeks of the Oregon State Fair, Herman swam around in a permanent pond, enduring the stares of thousands of fairgoers every year. Water quality issues eventually forced ODFW to stop the tradition, which had taken place for more than 50 years.

For more than 10 years, the fair was fishless.

"People have really long memories," Pressentin Young said. "They still come up and say 'where's Herman?'"

Herman has since gone to swim with the fishes. But thanks to Roger Warren, Gnat Creek Fish Hatchery manager, and Clatsop Community College, many of the 400,000 visitors to the Oregon State Fair will now see the 18-foot sculpture, created in honor of the largest sturgeon ever recorded in Oregon.

"We needed the sturgeon - Clatsop College jumped on it, and they did one heck of a job," Warren said.

It took more than 30 hours of work to shape and weld the steel fish, and work was supervised by Kevin Eaton, an instructor at the college. He and his wife, Sheryl, donated their time to help bring the project to life, and with the help of one student, the sturgeon was completed in record time.

"It sounded like an interesting idea, and a great opportunity to be involved in a project," said Eaton, who added that he normally supervises students as they complete their own welding and shop projects.

Eaton said he enjoyed involving his wife in the task.

"Normally I do all that type of work in the family, and for her to help create it was pretty cool," he said.

North Coast residents can see the sculpture and 23,000 other exhibits at the Oregon State Fair. The "big one" starts today and runs for two weeks at the Salem state fairgrounds, 2330 17th St. Tickets to the fair are $7, with discounts for seniors and children. For more information call (800) 833-0011 or visit the fair's Web site at www.oregonstatefair.org.