John Wight understands Maine in a way that only a true outdoorsman can. He lives in Bethel with his wife, Susan, on the Androscoggin River, which might be the perfect location for the third-generation master Maine guide who loves fishing and canoeing.

Wight retired from full-time teaching at Gould Academy six years ago, but continues to teach part time at the school. His passion for the outdoors and being a guide in Maine seeps into every area of his life. His family, his students (who are like extended family) and even his fellow faculty benefit from the breadth of his experience and knowledge.

Just as Wight followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, both in teaching and in guiding, so his son, Nathan, is following in his guiding footsteps, becoming the fourth generation of the Wight family to guide in Maine.

Name: John L. Wight

Age: I am 70 years young, as I am still very active. I guided four canoe trips this summer, and have fished with several clients and many friends.

Marital status: I am married to the love of my life, J. Susan Otto, from Northampton, Mass. We were married in August of 1971. She had been a student of mine when I was teaching as an undergraduate at Windham College in Putney, Vt.

Children: We have two children, Amanda and Nathan. Amanda is in Northampton, Mass., with her husband Alon Rand and twins Jenna and Tyler. Nathan is married to Shana, they live in Durham with their two girls, Addison and Avery.

When did you become a master Maine guide? I became a Maine guide in 1969, and they call me a master. Licensed to guide hunting, fishing and recreational trips. I do not guide hunters, but I have done well over 250 canoe trips, including 69 on the Allagash River in northern Maine. I still guide these, as well as fly-fishing trips with past clients, who have become friends.

Describe a typical day guiding a person in Maine. Is there such a thing as a “typical” day? I do not believe there is a typical day in guiding, and I do not know how many guides can name most of the flowering plants, all the birds and wildlife, most of the aquatic insect life, as well as the geologic history that formed the country we travel in. The canoe trips are never just the same. My first this past summer was 16 people on the St. Croix River. That is a lot of folks to cook and bake for over a fire, and it is a lot of work to manage them on the white-water sections of the river. My last trip this summer was a Boy Scout troop from Burlington, Conn. They were awesome to say the least: an eagle Scout, one other soon to be, and the rest (of the members) over first class, with great leaders. These Scouts have done a lot, but canoe tripping was not in their experience. Nine days on the Allagash formed them into a competent, skilled and proficient canoe group. At the same time, I got to teach them the history of the logging in the Allagash region.

From saving two men and their sons from hypothermia on the Allagash in 1971, to doing rope work to pull two 12-year-old girls from a canoe at the very edge of the 40-foot drop at Allagash Falls three years ago . . . there is no typical day.

Where is your favorite place in Maine? The St. John River, Katahdin, hiking into a mountain stream for small native trout, getting a kid to catch a fish on a fly he or she tied.

What has been the most interesting experience you’ve had while guiding? An interesting experience was with a man who was diagnosed as ADHD, who wanted me to take him fly fishing. He had been with other guides and had not caught anything, so I met him to go off for the day. He refused to take his fly rod and other gear, except his waders, because he just wanted to see how I did this whole thing. I had a plan in my mind to fix this for him. We drive an hour, I portage a canoe and all of our stuff into Pond-In-The-River, on Rapid River below Middle Dam in the Rangeley region. We paddle down to the old broken-out Lower Dam and I get him out in the middle of the river by poling and then anchoring my canoe to an old piece of cable on the bottom. We get out to wade. I rig up my rod, and teach and demo for this man, and proceed to catch several brook trout and a landlocked salmon. He is very pleased, but is not fishing, as I said before. So . . . I hook another fish and hand him my rod as I tell him I need something out of my canoe. I wade away, leaving him fighting that fish. I take my time and see him release the fish and cast again. When he hooks another fish, I walk back with another rod and proceed to fish a little distance away from him, without saying a word. That was a great day!

What attracted you to the teaching profession? My grandfather and my father were both private school teachers, so it was pretty easy to follow this route. Teaching also left the summers open for guiding. With a grandfather and father as teachers, it was not hard to follow this profession. I grew up as a faculty child at the Dublin School in Dublin, N.H. I attended school there, and eventually taught there for eight years before coming to Gould Academy.

What do you teach at Gould Academy? As a full-time teacher, I taught chemistry, three levels of physics, earth science and math, from algebra 1 through pre-calculus. This winter I will have three math classes and winter ecology for the 8th-graders. Because of recent college-level studies, I am teaching a week of aquatic entomology in an environmental studies class each fall. The work is used to help kids understand the present state of health of the Androscoggin River, and the data goes to the fisheries biologist in Gray. I am a life member of Maine Professional Guides, Maine Wilderness Guides and Trout Unlimited. I teach fly tying for Trout Unlimited and have put on many winter programs for the membership over the years.

What, if any, extracurricular things did you do as a teacher? I also coached boys and girls soccer, Nordic skiing and ski jumping, and road cycling. While teaching at a private school, there is time for many other chances to do things with kids: hiking, canoeing, fly fishing, fly tying, teaching them to shoot (with a concentration on firearm safety) and some time helping with rock climbing and ice climbing. I was also a part of the junior class Four Point Program: nine days in the Maine woods working on leadership skills in early March. We travel on snowshoes, sleep under tarps, cook on fires and stoves, and navigate by map and compass. Last winter was my last one, and I will miss it a great deal. I love working with kids, and teaching and coaching is never the same year after year. I would never have survived a job that did not have some variety in it, and teaching has been, and still is, perfect for me.

How did teaching change for the good or not so good during your decades of teaching? The greatest change in teaching has been the involvement of parents in the lives of their kids at private school. Some of this has been good, but some has not been very helpful. Often, kids need some room away from their parents to allow them to begin to stand on their own feet.

What is your favorite season? I like them all, except hot and humid weather in the summer.

What is your favorite outdoor activity to do in Maine? Fishing for native trout, white-water canoeing, climbing 4,000-foot peaks in N.H. (I am still after all 48 . . . 14 to go), teaching, teaching, teaching . . . still my favorite things.

What is the most rewarding part of being a Maine guide? There are many rewards in the guiding life. Most of my business has been from repeat clients and referrals from clients. Since my dad started taking kids on trips in the late ’40s, there have been many families who have sent their kids with us, and now with me, as I am still going. I have the potential for six canoe trips next summer. (In addition), Nathan and I are going to fly in to a remote camp in northern Quebec after driving 1,000 miles to Labrador City. We will fish for seven days (a long-time dream), more fishing in N.Y. for salmon and steelhead, and time with my kids and grandkids. Life is great at 70, with no plans to cut back as yet.


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