Bass, Boat Pioneer Forrest Wood Sees Continued Growth

Sept 6, 2004

FLIPPIN - In three and a half decades, Forrest Wood is well aware of how far bass tournament fishing has come. He also sees it going much farther in the future.

Forest Wood founder of flwoutdoors.comWood is a native Arkansan living at Flippin in Marion County. His life has been a storybook. As a teenager, he helped build Bull Shoals Dam. He went into business as a fishing guide, started building boats in an old service station and made Ranger Boats the epitome of bass boats. Wood sold the company several years ago for a considerable sum to entrepreneur Irwin Jacobs, who also bought Operation Bass.

Jacobs adroitly made the tournament arm "FLW" for Forrest L. Wood, and Wood is involved heavily in his low-key manner. And Wood has been on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission a little over six years now, serving as its current chairman.

An obvious understatement is Forrest Wood knows fishing.

Wood sat down recently with Charlie Evans to talk about the status of competitive bass fishing. Evans is the longtime tournament director for the FLW Tour.

Agreement came quickly. Bass tournaments have come a long way in a bit over three decades, and the pace has revved up sharply in the last few years. Where is the end? Nowhere in sight. Wood and Evans believe bass competition will continue to grow and with larger prize purses.

Wood said during his talk with Evans, "Fishing is good for this country." He went on to reflect, "The early competitors (in major bass tournaments) were mostly guides with fishing experience. Now we have the Japanese, and they are totally focused on fishing and winning."

Wood has more than one trademark. One is the white western hat he's never without. Another is his wife of 53 years, Nina. Wood seldom uses the pronouns "I" or "we." It's "Nina and I" nearly always, and Nina Wood has been a major part of the Wood/Ranger success story.

Forest and Nina WoodWood said, "In the very beginning in bass tournaments, sometimes we got a trophy and sometimes not. Something that has been important is young people learning to appreciate the outdoors and to have concern about resources." This is also a strong factor in Wood's tenure with the Game and Fish Commission.

"Bass fishing has moved a lot faster the last four years," Wood said. The national tournaments of both FLW Tour and BASS are shows along with fishing tournaments. Where the professionals once wore shirts touting boat companies, outboard motors and lures, now they include cereals, snacks, sunscreen, photo film and even dog food. "The sport will continue to grow," Wood said.

Jacobs himself has forecast "a million dollar first place in the near future."

Evans said the three-tiered FLW tournament structure will have larger prize packages next season. "Bass Fishing League in 2005 will have a million dollar championship (total). The Everstart series will have a million dollar championship. FLW Tour will have its paychecks stepped up."

Evans got into competitive fishing as a vocation with the beginning of the old Red Man circuit. He stayed when founder Mike Whitaker sold the business to Jacobs and when Jacobs moved Ranger vice president Charlie Hoover to the presidency of FLW Outdoors.

Evans said, "We try to be very good listeners. Our job is to grow a lot of enthusiasm for this sport."

Wood reflected with fondness on a long-familiar marketing tool of his boat company. "We made a boat with holes cut in it for the Coast Guard (for training purposes)." This boat with one or two men standing on it attracted wide attention, so Ranger quickly put it in advertising material. Sporting magazines had full-page Ranger ads with white-hatted Wood standing on a boat in the water with huge sections of it cut away. The graphic message was that Rangers don't sink.

Wood and Evans readily agree their sport is in no danger of sinking.

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