Today, I’d like to honor an exceptional Arkansan, Forrest Wood, one of our preeminent outdoorsmen and entrepreneurs, who passed away last week.
Forrest embodied the best of Arkansas. As word of his death spread, the people who knew him spoke of him as generous, kind, and humble, a man of faith, great integrity, and an unfailing work ethic.
Forrest Wood is most famous for Ranger Boats, a bass boat he designed and built in his hometown of Flippin. In the world of sport fishing, Forrest is known as the father of the modern bass boat.
But Forrest was much more than an accomplished boat builder. Forrest created a product that created thousands of jobs in northern Arkansas.
His knowledge and creativity led him to invent accessories that improved his boats and an entire sport. When the bass-fishing tournaments initiated a catch-and-release policy, Forrest invented an aerated fish well that allowed anglers to keep their fish alive and release them after weigh in.
He invented a level-flotation system that the U.S. Coast Guard now requires on all boats powered by an outboard motor.
His love of fishing helped spawn the professional and lucrative bass-fishing tournament circuit.
He was a conservationist and worked to preserve Arkansas’s wildlife and natural beauty. Forrest used his profile as a member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to successfully push for a federal minimum-flow regulation on the White River to protect trout and other aquatic life.
He was inducted into at least six halls of fame, including the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Outdoor Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Forrest and Nina, his wife and partner for 68 years, were inducted into the national Fishing Hall of Fame. That’s high praise for a man who was born and raised on a farm in Flippin. On their journey to success, Forrest and Nina faced setbacks that gave them the experience and strength to succeed.
Early in their marriage, hard times in the cattle business forced them to move to Kansas City, where Forrest worked in an airplane factory. But there he learned about the manufacturing business, which helped him build his company. When they had saved enough money to return home, they made the trip to Arkansas in the rain with a mattress tied to the top of their 1947 Plymouth.
Back in Arkansas, he built houses and was a fishing guide, which is how he started building boats. After Ranger Boats was flourishing, a fire destroyed his shop. But he crawled through a window and saved 60 boat orders. Within 40 days, Ranger Boats was back in production.
For all the contributions of this humble man in the white Stetson cowboy hat, his most important legacy is not boats or bass tournaments, but the thousands of people whose lives he touched with kindness and encouragement.
Forrest and Nina have four daughters, 11 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren.
In a conversation with a friend, Forrest noted that anyone can overcome adversity. If you want to test someone, he said, give them success. Forrest Wood had great success, and it is Arkansas’s good fortune that he used it well and shared it with so many.