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Legend in casting was envoy for sport

July 24,2016 16:09

Frank Gralak, the president of the Toledo Casting Club who met Mr. Garber in 1953 when Toledo played host to the national tournament, said Mr. Garber is remembered not only as an extremely skilled caster, but also as an ambassador for the sport.

Competition at the American Casting Association’s National Tournament in Kentucky begins on Tuesday, the same day that iconic champion caster Marion V. Garber of Temperance will be laid to rest. 
Mr. Garber, 86, had been in declining health for the past couple of years and died Friday. 
He won hundreds of titles in competition casting, including 88 national championships and 13 world championships. Mr. Garber set 14 world records for accuracy and distance. Some of his bait-casting accuracy marks still stand. He is in the American Casting Association’s Hall of Fame and was a 15-time All-American in the sport.
Frank Gralak, the president of the Toledo Casting Club who met Mr. Garber in 1953 when Toledo played host to the national tournament, said Mr. Garber is remembered not only as an extremely skilled caster, but also as an ambassador for the sport.
“He enjoyed teaching a great deal and took every opportunity to pass along his knowledge. And he could do it all — fly casting, spin casting, and bait casting — but Marion was probably one of the best bait casters that ever existed,” Mr. Gralak said. “He brought a lot of science to his techniques and was really a genius in some ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cast like he did — the plugs just flew like bullets, very low and very fast.”
Mr. Garber, who still shares the national record for competition dry-fly casting accuracy with a perfect score, had a reputation as a perfectionist who never stopped tinkering and searching for ways to improve his casting.
“He did a lot of experimenting and spent a lot of time trying different equipment because he was determined to be the best,” Mr. Gralak said. “He was a very small guy, but he beat a lot of bigger, stronger people in distance casting events by using timing and finesse. Everything he did in the casting motion was very efficient and very fluid.”
Gary Woollard, a friend who fished with Mr. Garber for 30 years, said the DeVilbiss High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran developed a unique approach for the distance casting competitions.
“While the other guys just heaved the bait with their arms, he would spin like a discus thrower and use his leg muscles to get extra distance,” Mr. Woollard said.
“Marion beat guys that were much taller and bigger by using momentum. He understood how motion worked.”
Mr. Woollard said that Mr. Garber, who also designed fly rods for manufacturers, was friends with his competitors and enthusiastically shared his expertise with others.
“If they were willing to listen, he enjoyed teaching people that had a passion for fishing,” Mr. Woollard said. “If people wanted to really learn, he liked teaching them.”
Mr. Garber had joined the Toledo Casting Club in 1944 when the sport was enjoying significant popularity. He was just 13 years old at the time, but won his first national title the following year for his skill at dry-fly casting accuracy and all-around accuracy. In 1946 he was named to the All-American casting team, and two years later Mr. Garber won his first senior casting title and his first world championship.
Those accomplishments in 1948 earned him the honor of being named Toledo’s Amateur Athlete of the Year. Mr. Garber’s family related that his reputation as a skilled caster was such that Toledo industrialist R.A. Stranahan would station his limousine near where Mr. Garber practiced at Ottawa Park, just to observe the gifted young caster at work.
At a banquet honoring champion athletes at the former Commodore Perry Motor Inn, Mr. Garber met legendary Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams. The two struck up a friendship and would later fish for salmon in Norway. Mr. Garber also shared his talents with attendees at outdoors shows, including those at the SeaGate Centre.
“I watched him in tournaments, and watched him do those demonstrations down at the SeaGate where he could wrap a fishing line around someone’s finger from 80 feet away,” said Steve Pollick, the retired outdoors editor of The Blade who fished with Mr. Garber from northern Ontario to Mexico. “And he did that year after year.”
Mr. Garber, who retired in the 1990s after a career working in the paper business, left competitive casting in 1966 because of injuries, but he returned 20 years later and again won casting accuracy events.
“He was concerned about the loss of emphasis in casting, and he regretted that the sport had faded from its glory days and was just a remnant of what it used to be,” Mr. Pollick said. “He felt the emphasis on good casting technique was being lost.”
Besides being a champion caster, Mr. Garber was also skilled rod-builder and angler.
“He could do it all extremely well, but his real passion was bass fishing with bait casting or spinning equipment,” Mr. Woollard said. “Even though he excelled at fly casting in tournaments, he preferred bass fishing with spinning or bait-casting gear.”
“He loved to fish Sand Lake for smallmouth bass,” said Bob Barnhart, the owner of Jann’s Netcraft Fishing Tackle where Mr. Garber would often shop for his rod building supplies.
“He had an amazing skill set, and casting was just one aspect of it. He was a world champion who would always take the time to talk to anyone about fishing,” Mr. Barnhart said. “He was a teacher, a steward, and a lot of other things. This wasn’t just another guy — the fishing community lost one of its real ambassadors.”
Mr. Pollick accompanied this fishing legend on Mr. Garber’s final angling outing, a day on a lake in the Irish Hills in the summer of 2014. Beset with a variety of health problems, including the loss of an eye because of a botched cataract surgery, Mr. Garber told his friend that would be the final chapter in a long and decorated fishing career.
“We always stopped at the Big Boy in Tecumseh on the way home, but this time he made it a point to tell the waitresses who knew him good-bye,” Mr. Pollick said. “Then he sold his boat, sold his Jeep Cherokee, and he quit driving. It was very bittersweet, but he had just plain run out of gas.”
Mr. Pollick said he will remember Mr. Garber for his “Zenlike” approach to fishing.
“He approached fishing as an art, and as an enjoyable pursuit, and he really did not like turning fish into a commodity,” Mr. Pollick said. “And no matter how many times you went fishing with him, there was always an instructional value in everything he said.”
Mr. Garber’s memorial service will be at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at Mount Carmel Church in Temperance. According to those who knew him best, he was a rare and uniquely gifted individual who could make the mind, the muscles, and the fishing rod all act as one.
“He leaves a legacy as one of the greatest casters around, but it was more than just casting and fishing with Marion,” said close friend Mr. Woollard. “He helped a lot of different people in a lot of ways.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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