As most of you know, Forrest Wood, the founder of Ranger Boats and one of the first true legends of our sport, died in late January at the age of 87.
A lot of the folks I work with knew him well, and I hate that I didn’t. Apparently, he was one of the easiest guys in the world to know. He was a true Southern gentleman with that familiar cowboy hat, a welcoming drawl and a smile as big as his home state of Arkansas.
The silhouette of him in that hat has become as synonymous with Ranger as the shield has with B.A.S.S. But through all of his accomplishments, he always had time for people, big or small.
That being said, I feel silly that I was always intimidated by him.
I’ve spent nearly 30 years in this business and met most of the biggest names. I’ve become friends with many of them, gone fishing with them and gotten comfortable enough to joke and jab with them now and then.
But some folks just have a presence about them — an unmistakable persona — that makes you feel like you should say “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” and always call them “Mr.”
Ray Scott has it. Rick Clunn has it. And Forrest Wood had it, for sure.
That’s why I always felt more like an adoring fan than a member of the same industry anytime he was around.
It’s why my favorite story about him comes secondhand from another industry giant, Bill Dance.
As Dance tells it, the night before a Bassmaster event on Lake Toho in 1978, he decided to pull a prank on Wood, who was also fishing the event.
After seeing Wood in the hotel lobby with his wife, Nina, Dance waited for the couple to get checked in to their room and tucked into bed. Then he had the desk clerk ring their room.
Dance remembers the conversation like this:
Wood: Hello (in that welcoming drawl).
Dance (in disguise): Mr. Wood, this is David Carson. I’m the manager here at the Holiday Inn. We want to thank you for choosing to stay with us, but we have a major problem. Our state senator is coming in, and he always stays in the room that you’re in right now. Would you mind moving down the hall before the senator gets here? He’s about 30 minutes out.
Wood: Well, no sir. We’re already in bed, Mr. Carson.
Dance: We apologize, Mr. Wood. But you’re gonna have to get up. And if you can, would you make the bed back up and pull the wrinkles out of it so we don’t have to send the maid service up?
Wood: I’m sorry, Mr. Carson, but we’re not moving.
Dance: Now, Mr. Wood, I’m not an aggressive kind of guy. But when our senator is coming and he requests room 206, you will be moving.
Wood: Well, we’ll just see about that, sonny boy.
Dance said it was the first time he’d ever seen or heard Wood angry.
Bill laughs himself silly every time he tells that story — just like he laughs at me every time I talk about being intimidated by Wood.
But you want to hear the kicker to that story?
Bill says he thought about knocking on Wood’s door 30 minutes later. But he couldn’t muster the guts.
Sadly, I know the feeling.
Rest in peace, Mr. Wood.