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Forrest Lee Wood is known worldwide for his success in the sport fishing industry. In 1968, he founded Ranger Boats, now the largest manufacturer of bass boats in the nation. Wood has thus become 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 has 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 has been 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. More recently, he received the 2007 Golden Glow Award presented by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.
As of 2008, Wood and his wife reside in Flippin, where they oversee 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.
For additional information:Bowman, Steve. “Forrest Lee Wood.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. January 13, 2002, p. 1D, 5D.
Forrest L. Wood Outdoor Sports Gallery. http://www.flwsportsgallery.com/ (accessed February 19, 2008).
Schultz, Bernie. “Legend of Sport—Forrest Wood.” Inside Line. July/August 2004. http://www.insideline.net/2004/forrest-wood.htm (accessed December 6, 2007).
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.
Tye WhatleyTexarkana, Arkansas
Last Updated 4/29/2015
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