It’s been imagined by many that Forrest Wood and Jerry McKinnis are back together, drifting down an ethereal stream, reeling in trout.
A float trip on the White River in north Central Arkansas brought them together some 60 years ago, and both went on to build empires — different yet ever connected — in the bass fishing world. Wood died Jan. 25 at 87, less than three months after McKinnis passed at 82.
Editor's note: See photos from the Forrest L. Wood Outdoors Sports Gallery.
Their first fateful encounter happened when McKinnis completed a journey from St. Louis to fish the recently created trout haven. As he walked down the ramp to G.O. Tilley’s boat dock, a tall, skinny man wearing a cowboy hat greeted him. Their first exchange, as written in McKinnis’ autobiography, was:
“Are you Jerry?” Just a simple “Yes” was all I had. “Well great. I’ll be your guide today. My name is Forrest Wood."
McKinnis added the meeting became one of the big moments in shaping his life. Supporting each other through the years, both became icons, Wood for his Ranger Boat Company and namesake fishing tour and McKinnis for his fishing show and TV production.
“They were so different,” Bassmaster TV host Tommy Sanders said. “Big city kid (Jerry from St. Louis) and the guy from the smallest, tiniest community buried in the Ozarks (Forrest from Flippin, Ark.), yet they were two peas in a pod in a lot of ways. They both had ambition. They were both builders. Both eaten up with bass fishing. They would finish each other’s sentences.
“I think people know Forrest for the fact he was the genuine article. He built that business, literally, with his own hands. I want to remember all I can about Forrest. There won’t be any more like him.”
While their drive alone might have pushed Wood and McKinnis to greatness, Steve Bowman, head of angler relations at B.A.S.S., thinks their meeting holds more importance. Bowman met Woods while outdoor editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and that led to friendship. He similarly connected with McKinnis, who hired him two decades ago to work at JM Associates. Bowman, who has shared bread, water, woods and many words with both, thinks “I’ll be your guide” was much more poignant than just that day’s fishing.
“I’ve always thought he became his guide for life that very moment,” Bowman said. “What he said without really saying it is, I’m going to be your guide, we’re going to guide each other for life.”