January 25, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
Forrest L. Wood, the namesake of the FLW Tour and the founder of the iconic Ranger Boats bass boat brand, passed away on Saturday, January 25, 2020.
Shortly after his passing, FLW issued the following statement via Facebook: “FLW is saddened to report that Forrest L. Wood, the namesake of our organization, passed away today at age 87. Most people know Forrest as a legendary boat builder and one of the early leaders in professional fishing. But here at FLW, we’ll always know him as family. Our thoughts and prayers are with Forrest’s wife, Nina, and all of their friends and family during this difficult time.”
Almost immediately, tributes and remembrances of Wood began pouring in from Arkansas and elsewhere in the fishing world.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement that read: “It was my honor to know Forrest Wood, and his passing is a deeply sad moment for our entire state. Forrest embodied the best of Arkansas. He was an entrepreneur who brought thousands of jobs to Northern Arkansas with his founding of Ranger Boats. His business accomplishments have been recognized in the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, and his contributions to the world of fishing and recreation have made Arkansas a destination point for fishermen from all over the world. He loved Arkansas, and Arkansas loved Forrest Wood. Susan and I express our condolences and prayers for Nina and the entire Wood family.”
Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin issued a statement via Twitter that read: “Forrest Wood, founder of Ranger Boats, was one of Arkansas’s iconic businessmen, and his success & legacy left an indelible mark on our state. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Representative Steve Womack, who represents Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, stated via Twitter that: “Forrest Wood was a dedicated outdoorsman, entrepreneur, and friend. He will not only be remembered as a legendary boat maker, but also for his love of family, being on the water, and fishing. He will be sorely missed. My prayers are with Nina and the entire family. RIP.”
Bill Dance, one of the sport’s most legendary competitors, TV stars, and a Hall of Famer, issued his own Twitter social media post that read: “Today, we lost a sweet and gentle giant, my dear friend of over 50 years, Forrest Wood. Our prayers go out to you, Nina and your wonderful family. As long as someone calls Forrest’s name, he’ll always live on. Love you all, Dianne and Bill Dance and family.”
Wood, who had been hospitalized the last several days after suffering a major heart attack, is one of the sport’s most legendary success stories, rising from his days when he worked as a fishing guide in Arkansas, to competing in more than 100 Bass Anglers Sportsman Society tournaments, to building his iconic company’s bass boats from the late 1960s until he sold Ranger Boats in 1987. In recent years, that story had included the start of another boat building company, Vexus Boats.
Wood’s legendary presence in the sport oversaw the building of Ranger Boats from humble beginnings in Arkansas behind a service station to the top of the industry with the boat being a top seller and the official brand of the Bassmaster Classic from the early 1970s until 2000.
While Wood, who was highly recognizable thanks to the trademark white cowboy hat that he usually wore, competed in two Bassmaster Classics himself, his later years were more closely associated with the FLW Tour. That happened thanks to the Operation Bass tournament circuit being renamed for him in 1996, although FLW now stands for Fishing League Worldwide.
For many years, the FLW organization – now owned by Major League Fishing – named its championship event after the legendary boat builder from Arkansas. It was originally known as the Forrest Wood Cup – including in 2007 when current MLF Bass Pro Tour competitor Scott Suggs won the sport’s first $1 million-dollar tournament winning prize – although the event was recently renamed as simply the FLW Cup.
Because of his Mount Rushmore like presence in the sport, Wood was a 2010 inductee into the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame. He is also reportedly a member of numerous other Hall of Fames including the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Game, the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, the International Boating Hall of Fame, the National Marine Manufacturers Hall of Fame, and the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame.
Wood’s presence in Arkansas fishing lore is also well established with memberships in the Arkansas Game and Fish Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Walk of Fame, and the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. A one-time member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center in eastern Arkansas was reportedly renamed after Wood a few years ago.
The loss of one of the sport’s most famous figures comes during a particularly difficult stretch for tournament bass angling. Within a several month period, bass fishing has said goodbye to three well known industry figures with the deaths of FLW founder Irwin Jacobs and one-time B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis in 2019 and Wood in early 2020.
Wood was married to his wife Nina for nearly 70 years and is the father of four daughters. Funeral arrangements are pending.