FLIPPIN, Ark. — Forrest Lee Wood, the iconic founder of Ranger Boats, passed away peacefully with his family by his side on Jan. 25. He was 87.
Wood is survived by his wife of 68 years, Nina; his immediate family members that include daughters Brenda, Donna, Linda and Rhonda; sons in law and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Wood also had one brother, Mickey (deceased).
Wood was born June 9, 1932, in Flippin, to Ervin and Beulah Wood. He was raised on his family farm and later worked in construction projects, including the building of Bull Shoals Dam, before launching a successful guide service.
Wood was admired and respected throughout the recreational marine and sport fishing industries as a man of humbleness, integrity, kindness, honesty and hard work. His work ethic was a mirror of his character, with his family involved in everything he did, from running his beloved cattle operation to creating an iconic boat company that is recognized more than 50 years later as a leader in the industry.
Wood recognized the need for a better boat while operating his guide service on the rivers and lakes in the Arkansas Ozarks. As a patriot and cowboy at heart, Wood wanted a name standing for the merits he most desired in a boat. Strength, safety and reliability were three core values of the legendary frontier lawmen known as the Texas Rangers. One single name summed it all up. Ranger Boats. The first Ranger was built in 1968 and word soon spread about the new company.
Timing was a big help in jumpstarting the success of Ranger. At about the same time, Ray Scott formed the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.). Wood entered the tournaments to gain insight on what anglers desired in a bass boat. B.A.S.S. and Ranger experienced phenomenal paralleled growth as the tournament trail evolved, and that led to many innovations that are industry standards today.
Early models evolved into true fishing machines with tacklebox holders, rod storages and aerated livewells. In the 1970s, Ranger began adding to a list of “firsts” in the boating industry that would continue for decades. Those included the first patented aerated livewell, leading the way to U.S. Coast Guard flotation standards, computerized spin balancing and laser axle alignment mechanics for Ranger Trail Trailers and many more. As testimony to the many innovations to come, Ranger was the official boat used in the Bassmaster Classic for 30 years.
Ranger’s early ad slogan, “Built by fishermen, for fishermen,” underscored a commitment for innovations that paralleled the growth of tournament fishing and recreational angling. And Wood lived the phrase, qualifying twice for the Classic and competing in 101 Bassmaster Tournament Trail events between 1969 and 1992.
While Wood competed in Bassmaster Tournament Trail events to gain grass-roots feedback from anglers, his wife Nina was in attendance at weigh-ins in what today would be considered a marketing role. Simply put, Nina was and is a great judge of character, and she kept a constant pulse on which anglers were the best fit for Ranger’s “family” culture. There was no formal “pro team,” and instead the qualifications for gaining sponsor support and boats were based on integrity, sportsmanship and personable demeanor, not unlike how the Wood family conducted business.
It worked well. Ranger pros accounted for 18 of 30 Classic wins when Ranger was the official Classic boat. That included an unprecedented 22 Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles between 1970 and 2002, and numerous B.A.S.S. tournament wins from the B.A.S.S. Nation to the pro trails.
Wood’s accolades within an industry that he helped shaped are wide and admirable. Wood is an inductee in the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, International Boating Hall of Fame, National Marine Manufacturers Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Outdoor Hall of Fame. He and wife Nina are also inductees in the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the American Sportfishing Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Flippin Cemetery Fund, P.O. Box 211, Flippin, AR 72634.
Funeral services on Jan. 29 are at noon at Flippin First Baptist Church. The family will receive friends at the church following the service. The graveside burial will be private.