Remembering a true legend: Forrest L. Wood

Forrest L. Wood and Josh Huff joined Tim Lesmeister on Lake Superior for some smallmouth bass fishing, where the stories never stopped. Wood was known by everyone in the fishing world and had plenty of tales to tell from his vast experience. (Photo by Tim Lesmeister)

The outdoor world lost a bona fide pioneer recently. Forrest Wood was well known as the inventor of the modern bass boat, but he was so much more to those in the realm of fishing. He was a legend.

Forrest was born in Flippin, Ark., and even though he maintained a construction business and cattle farm, his love was fishing and early on he guided on Bull Shoals Lake, the White River, Buffalo River, and Crooked Creek. He became well known throughout the region as a top fishing guide.

Forrest founded Ranger Boats in 1968 and his company became the largest manufacturer of bass boats in the nation. He thus became known as the father of the modern bass boat.

Many organizations in the fishing community honored Forrest Wood by recognizing him as a legend in the sport. He was inducted into the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, the International Boating Hall of Fame, National Marine Manufacturers Hall of Fame, Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame, Arkansas Game and Fish Hall of Fame, Arkansas Walk of Fame, and the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission named its Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center for Wood, who served a seven-year term on the commission after an appointment by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee from 1998 to 2005.

Even after selling the Ranger Boats company in 1987, Forrest remained active in the sport fishing industry. In 1996, Operation Bass, a tournament organization, was renamed using Forrest’s initials, FLW. The FLW tournament circuits have since seen major success in boosting the popularity of sport fishing and have been broadcast in some twenty-five countries around the world, appearing on ESPN, Fox Sports Network, Matchroom Sport, and the Armed Forces Network.

I was fortunate to get some days on the water with Forrest and he was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. On one of our fishing forays he got out his phone and showed me a picture he took when he was at the FLW Championship. Someone had tattooed his image onto their bicep.

He told me he was totally flabbergasted that a person would be so enamored with him they would ink their body with an indelible design of his profile. He was honored, yet amazed.

He was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 1987 and served on the Selection Committee since 2007. That’s more than 30 years that he was associated with the hall and contributed to its success. The members of the Selection Committee, which I am chairman of, will miss his amazing stories and insights about the world of angling. There were very few in the industry he did not know personally and he almost always had a great anecdote to share about someone that had been nominated for induction.

Forrest was a huge supporter of anglers who were trying to make it in the world of competitive fishing. We discussed at length how important tournament fishing was, because the platform was needed to bring younger anglers into the sport. According to Wood, without the younger generation taking up the rod and reel and getting out on the water, the funding for fisheries would shrink and the manufacturers that create the equipment would also see their profits dwindle. He put a lot of effort into generating opportunities for the youth.

Forrest often spoke of his wife of 68 years, Nina, with whom together he raised four daughters. She accompanied him to many events, and he often gave her credit for the success he had in the fishing realm. In 2009 the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame recognized their success as a team by inducting them into The Hall for their combined accomplishments.

Forrest often made the comment that his life was blessed. He admitted that he had to weather a few storms, but he always stayed on high ground, shook off the rain and kept a positive attitude. He was genuine, never said a bad word about anyone, always supported his friends and was an excellent family man. He left behind a far-reaching legacy that friends and admirers will remember for generations to come. The world lost a true leader and a true legend.

Categories: Blog Content, Tim Lesmeister

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