Feature Article: Forrest Wood Passes

Legendary Forrest Wood passes

BY MIKE JONES/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Jan 28, 2020

The world of bass fishing lost a legendary figure Saturday, Jan. 25 when Forrest L. Wood, the founder of Ranger Boats, died after a brief illness at age 87.

FORREST WOOD. Photo courtesy Ranger Boats

Surrounded by family, Wood reportedly passed away peacefully in Flippin, Arkansas, the same small Ozark town of his birth and where, in 1968, he would be instrumental in launching a modern revolution in bass fishing.

Spending much of his younger years in cattle ranching and in various construction trades including work on the nearby Bull Shoals Dam – an impoundment that would create a world-class bass fishery on one side and blue-ribbon trout water on the other – Wood also forged a respectable career as a fishing guide.

Bringing his diverse, hands-on experience to Ranger Boats, Wood was at the very forefront of a new industry. With his wife of 68 years, Nina, they combined a down-home sense of family values with true American innovation to develop and refine something for which there had been no blueprint – the modern bass boat.

His timing was also fortuitous.

Another innovator, Ray Scott, had just held his first tournament of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) in 1967. With Ranger as the official boat of BASS from 1972 to 2000, Wood and Scott collectively brought bass fishing to national sporting prominence. Recirculating livewells and other innovations not only made modern bass tournaments truly viable, but instilled the phrase “catch-and-release” into the world lexicon, as well as elevating the public consciousness.

However, the legacy of Ranger Boats almost ended before it had begun when a fire swept through the factory in 1971. In a moment worthy of a Hollywood script, Wood somehow rescued a notebook from the flames, which contained orders for 60 boats. It was exactly what the bankers needed to underwrite a loan and get the company back up and producing boats in less than two months.

For years, the Ranger/BASS alliance flourished and it was not until 1996 when Irwin Jacobs purchased Operation Bass and asked Forrest to be the name brand of a new tournament organization did Wood’s famously broad support for all things bass fishing take on new connotations. Designed for weekend anglers and using Wood’s initials, FLW quickly made an impact on the tournament world by paying $1 million to its annual champion.

With an ever-present cowboy hat topping his tall and lanky frame, Forrest Wood had the rare ability to be an industry-driving force, yet somehow steer clear of public power struggles. Friendly nearly to a fault, Wood tirelessly worked sport shows and events, seeming to have a moment for every handshake and a signature for every cap.

Wood’s authenticity not only stemmed from his country upbringing but, among bass fishermen, the knowledge that this genial man had qualified for two Bassmaster Classics (1972 & 1979) and compiled a respectable resume in over 100 BASS tournaments. For most, it was more than proof enough.

Having sold Ranger Boats in 1987, Wood recently brought his powerful presence to Vexus, a new boat company unveiled in 2017 and run by Wood’s eldest grandson, Keith Daffron.

In addition to industry ventures, Wood remained active in outdoor causes, including a seven-year stint on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Former President and Arkansas governor Bill Clinton said in a statement that Wood was “ambitious and determined and Arkansas is a better place because he fully invested his time and talents right there.”

From fishing great Bill Dance came this poignant observation: “As long as someone calls Forrest’s name, he’ll always live on.”

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