Forrest Lee Wood (1932–2020)
Forrest Lee Wood was known worldwide for his success in the sport fishing industry. In 1968, he founded Ranger Boats, which became the largest manufacturer of bass boats in the nation. Wood thus became known as an “outdoor legend” and the father of the modern bass boat.
Forrest Wood was born in Flippin (Marion County) on June 9, 1932, to Ervin and Beulah Wood; he had one younger brother. His father served for a time as a game warden, and he and Wood worked on the construction of the Bull Shoals Dam.
On April 21, 1951, Wood married Nina Kirkland; they had four daughters. The couple began raising cattle early in their marriage, but cattle prices dropped, and Wood found work in Kansas City, Missouri. However, the couple returned to Flippin in April 1955. Wood began work as a private guide on Bull Shoals Lake, the White River, Buffalo River, and Crooked Creek. He became well known throughout the region as a top fishing guide.
Wood and his wife continued to raise cattle, and he did construction work—building houses, bridges, and commercial buildings—while continuing to run a float trip business. In 1968, he began building lake boats, setting up shop in the back of a filling station. He made six boats that year, and Forrest’s Ranger boats, named after the Army Rangers and the Texas Rangers, began to attract attention. On January 1, 1969, Wood and his employees moved into an old nightclub and made 600 boats. By 1970, sales had topped 1200.
On May 4, 1971, the boat factory was destroyed by fire, though Wood managed to salvage sixty boat orders from his desk in the burning building. Remarkably, Ranger Boats was back in business within forty days. That year, Wood qualified for the first Bassmaster Classic, and the following year, Ranger was named “the official Bassmaster Classic boat.” It remained so through 2000.
Even after selling Ranger Boats in 1987, Wood remained a legend in the sport fishing industry. In 1996, Operation Bass, a tournament organization, was renamed using Forrest’s initials, FLW. The FLW tournament circuits have since seen major success in boosting the popularity of sport fishing and have been broadcast in some twenty-five countries around the world, appearing on ESPN, Fox Sports Network, Matchroom Sport, and the Armed Forces Network.
In 1998, Governor Mike Huckabee appointed Wood to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), where he served a seven-year term, the last year as chairman, as is standard practice. The AGFC in 2005 named its new nature center in Jonesboro (Craighead County) the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center.
Wood was inducted into the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, International Boating Hall of Fame, National Marine Manufacturers Hall of Fame, Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame, Arkansas Game and Fish Hall of Fame, Arkansas Walk of Fame, and the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. He also received the 2007 Golden Glow Award presented by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.
Wood and his wife resided in Flippin, where they oversaw an extensive cattle operation. In 2005, they opened to the public the Forrest L. Wood Outdoor Sports Gallery, displaying a collection of personal and Ranger memorabilia, including some early boat models. Wood died on January 25, 2020.
For additional information:
Bowman, Steve. “Forrest Lee Wood.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 13, 2002, p. 1D, 5D.
Hendricks, Bryan. “Flippin’s Wood Dies; Founded Ranger Boats.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 26, 2020, pp. 1B, 7B.
Schultz, Bernie. “Legend of Sport—Forrest Wood.” Inside Line. July/August 2004.
Schultz, Ken. Bass Madness: Bigmouths, Big Money, and Big Dreams at the Bassmaster Classic. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006.
Waters, Steve. “Forrest Wood Stands Tall among Anglers.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 25, 1998, p. 8C.
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I was a professional angler who fished for Ranger Boats from 1984 through 1999. During those wonderful years, I was always treated as a part of the Ranger family, and treated especially kindly by Forrest and Nina Woods. I have never met anybody in my life who was so considerate and kind to other people. Forrest always had a good joke or story to tell anyone. Forrest even loaned me his personal Ranger boat one time to fish a B.A.S.S. Tournament in New York. I ripped the trolling motor off the boat due to bad weather and very rough waters on the St. Lawrence River. I tried several times to pay for it, but he would not let me. That’s the kind of people the Woods are: kind, generous, and loving. We need more people like Forrest and Nina Woods; it would make this world we live in much better.