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Ranger Boats, founded in Flippin (Marion County) in 1968 by Forrest Lee Wood and his wife, Nina, is the largest maker of bass boats in the United States. The Woods were instrumental in developing the sport of professional bass fishing, and Forrest Wood is considered the creator of the modern bass boat. Ranger Boats are sold throughout the world and have the reputation of being among the finest bass boats made.
Wood, born in 1932 and a native of Marion County, married Nina Kirkland, also a Marion County native, in 1951, and the couple began operating a fishing guide and float trip service in the late 1950s. The Woods took their clients on expeditions on Bull Shoals Lake, the White River, and Crooked Creek.
Wood began placing fiberglass on the exterior of traditional flat-bottomed river boats called johnboats to prevent leaks and make them more durable. Over the years, he was responsible for many such innovations in fishing boats and also in boat trailers. North Arkansas saw the construction of a number of dams in the 1950s, which created large lakes. Wood therefore decided to turn his attention to building a high-quality maneuverable lake boat. With the help of a handful of employees, he formed Wood Manufacturing Company Inc. (doing business as Ranger Boats) and built six boats in 1968. He used the name Ranger Boats in honor of the Army Rangers and the Texas Rangers.
In the late 1960s, Wood became involved in the fledgling sport of competitive bass fishing as a way to promote his boats. In 1968, he met Ray Scott of Montgomery, Alabama, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, and participated in the second B.A.S.S. tournament. Ranger Boats was designated “the official Bassmaster Classic boat” in 1972, and the Woods and Ranger Boats eventually went on to sponsor bass-fishing tournaments.
The Woods sold Wood Manufacturing to the Thompson Co. of Dallas, Texas, in 1987, and Genmar Holdings—a private company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota—bought Wood Manufacturing in 1991. In 2001, Genmar head Irwin L. Jacobs renamed Operation Bass, a competitive fishing tournament, FLW Outdoors after Forrest Lee Wood. FLW Outdoors, chaired by Jacobs, is the largest fishing tournament organization in the world. Jacobs went on to create FLW Outdoors Fantasy Fishing, which was the first fantasy sports league to award a $1 million prize. After Genmar filed for bankruptcy in 2009, it was acquired by Platinum Equity of California in January 2010. At the time, Genmar was the second-largest manufacturer of pleasure boats in the world. The Woods continue to endorse and represent the company, and Forrest Wood still travels to promote tournament events.
Ranger Boats’ revenue totaled more than $200 million in 2007. The largest employer in Marion County, it has about 200 dealers in the United States and Canada and also has dealerships in Australia, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, Spain, the Ukraine, and Venezuela. As recently as 2008, Ranger Boats employed 850 workers, but it had dropped to 440 employees by 2010. The company offers more than thirty models of boats in four separate lines.
It was announced in December 2014 that outdoor supply retailer Bass Pro Group LLC purchased Fishing Holdings LLC of Flippin, which makes Ranger Boats, from Platinum Equity. The company said it would continue to operate from its Flippin headquarters under existing local management.
For additional information:
Bowman, Steve. “Forrest Lee Wood.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 13, 2002, p. 1D, 5D.
Ranger Boats. http://www.rangerboats.com/staticPages/heritage.cfm (accessed December 12, 2014).
Roth, Steve. “Ranger’s Success Story.” The Ultimate Bass Fishing Resource Guide. http://www.bassresource.com/fishing/ranger_boats.html (accessed December 12, 2014).
Schultz, Bernie. “Legend of Sport—Forrest Wood.” Inside Line (July/August 2004). Online at http://www.insideline.net/2004/forrest-wood.htm (accessed December 12, 2014).
Little Rock, Arkansas
Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 12/12/2014
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