Forrest L. Wood has one heck of a fishing story.
Actually, many anglers, pros, and weekend fishing enthusiasts alike all across the country can thank Wood for the record largemouth they caught last spring, a tournament trophy, or just the great memory of the one that got away. Yes, Wood has one heck of a fishing story—one of love, success, and loyalty. Oh, and getting a bite or two along the way.
The father of the modern bass boat was born in the small Ozark mountain town of Flippin, Arkansas, on June 9, 1932. As the son of a game warden, Wood grew up with a healthy dose of respect and love for the outdoors. He spent many days working on the family farm, a tradition he would continue into adulthood after marrying the love of his life, Nina Kirkland, on April 21, 1951.
Wood met his wife-to-be while he was still just a school boy. The bond the two shared as high-school sweethearts remained strong through the ups and downs of life, raising four daughters, and starting and running a business that changed the world of fishing. To this day Wood gives much of the credit to their success to his hard-working wife, even admitting at least once that his lovely bride could out-fish him any day.
The couple earned their living raising cattle while Wood also worked construction throughout the years. Probably most important to this fishing tale, they also started a fishing guide service. Wood became one of the most popular guides in the region, leading clients to catch their best on Bull Shoals Lake, Crooked Creek, and the White and Buffalo Rivers.
With all this time spent on the water, Wood knew his way around a boat and just what it took to make a boat a proper fishing vessel. His guide trips were on heavy, wooden boats, but he had a vision for a boat made specifically for fishing: it would be an angler’s dream. He began building plywood boats and covered them with fiberglass. To test the waters, so to speak, Wood and some friends went to a fishing tournament on Greers Ferry Lake to see if anyone would be willing to purchase one of his designs. One of his first boats was sold to Bill Dance, pro-fisherman and later host of Bill Dance Outdoors.
In 1968, in the back of a service station in Flippin (now the site of city hall and the fire department), Ranger Boats was born. Named for the U.S. Army Rangers and the Texas Rangers, Wood aimed for his boats to have similar integrity and strength and become a name anglers could count on. During the first year in business, six boats were built before moving production to a former dance hall, the Silver Star. In 1969 Wood saw his business grow to 600 boats built. In 1970, at $1,000 a piece, Ranger Boats filled 1,200 orders. Business was booming, and Wood and his wife were enjoying the ride.
But on May 4, 1971, it seemed their legacy might die before it got fully started. That evening, an electrical fire burned down the Ranger Boats factory. Wood and a friend ran into the burning building to retrieve sixty orders from the office. What happened from there was something no one could have expected, nor could it have happened without the loyalty of Ranger Boats friends and family.
Everybody rallied around the Woods and the work that needed to done. Ray Scott, Bassmaster founder, ran Ranger Boats ads for free in his magazine until business picked up again. Forty days and forty nights later, Ranger Boats was up and running, arguably stronger than before. That same year, Wood himself qualified for the first Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament, with Ranger being named as the official “Bassmaster Classic Boat” shortly after.
Wood himself competed in several top fishing tournaments throughout his career, as much for the joy of it as to keep in touch with what modern anglers needed in a boat, from custom boat trailers to aerated livewells that enabled catch and live release at tournaments. His designs were built for anglers, by anglers. His contributions to the fishing and conservation world have earned him numerous designations, awards, and recognition, including his being appointed to a seven-year term to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission by Gov. Mike Huckabee.
While still deeply involved in the fishing and boating world, Wood and his wife sold Ranger in 1987. Hard-working as ever, the couple still manage cattle on their land in the Ozarks. Their name might be removed from the company on paper, but their values of integrity and commitment shine through the employees that still build Ranger Boats, many that started with the company in their high school years, out of a love of fishing and a belief in what Wood and his wife started nearly fifty years ago—building boats and a legacy along the way, and one heck of a fishing story.
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