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Beyond the Office: Belanger keeps eye out for fishing on the fly

Rochester attorney Matt Belanger proudly holds a large migratory brown trout caught in Linear Park in Perinton. Courtesy Matt Belanger

Rochester attorney Matt Belanger proudly holds a large migratory brown trout caught in Linear Park in Perinton. Courtesy Matt Belanger

Matt Belanger, partner at Faraci Lange LLP, keeps his fly fishing gear in the car, waders and all.

“It’s a way to ensure I can fit in an hour or two of fishing here and there,” he explained. “There are plenty of creeks and streams in Western New York. This is a wonderful place to live if you are a fly fisherman.”

Fly fishing 101

In fly fishing, the artificial fly is nearly weightless and it is the weight of the line (typically coated with plastic), along with technique, that gets the fly to its target. In spin or bait fishing, it is the weight of the lure or a sinker at the end of the monofilament or braided line that gives distance to casting.

Fly fishing involves a significantly different form of casting, using a fly rod that can be as long as 10 feet. Technique in placing the fly (typically 12 to 36 feet from the fisherman) takes lots of practice. The line used can be floating, to keep the fly on top of the water, or sinking-tip line that allows the fly to go below the surface.

Belanger mainly fishes for trout and salmon, but the type of fly used varies greatly by season and weather. Trout have a varied diet that includes water insects like mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, as well as fresh water shrimp and small fish. Fly fishermen tie a large variety of flies to mimic what trout eat in the hope of fooling some of the fish.

This action shot of Belanger fly fishing for brook trout was taken in the Androscoggin River in Errol, N.H. Courtesy Matt Belanger

This action shot of Belanger fly fishing for brook trout was taken in the Androscoggin River in Errol, N.H. Courtesy Matt Belanger

“Mayflies are typically only around from early April to the end of June, so the fish won’t even look at a mayfly in August,” said Belanger, opening a box of 50-some home-tied mayfly flies. “Half the fun of fly fishing is figuring out what fly to tie to the end of your line. There are a multitude of choices — the vast majority of which won’t work on any given day.”

In the beginning

Belanger grew up in Worcester, Mass. He was about 8 years old when he started fly fishing. With the luxury of a child’s schedule, he would hang around a local fly shop, watching the owner tie flies. He fished regularly throughout his teenage years.

Fishing was set aside while he attended the College of the Holy Cross from 1979-1983, earning his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1983. Then he went to work as a political campaign manager, which led him to think about a career in law.

He took a job at a Boston law firm as a paralegal, and by 1987 was enrolled at Northeastern University School of Law. Meanwhile, during his paralegal stint, the firm he worked for in Boston was hired by Faraci Lange to handle asbestos cases.

During law school, Belanger did a co-op semester at Faraci Lange, earning himself a job offer while still in his first year. Upon graduation in 1990, he began his full time work with Angelo Faraci — a decision that is still brings great satisfaction.

“When I started traveling to Rochester from Boston in the mid-1980s, I fell in love with this part of the country, which is ironic because many of the local people my age were looking to leave here for places like Boston,” Belanger said. “However, I was attracted to the quality of living in this area, where a 30-minute drive in any direction would put you in the country and where housing prices were affordable, especially compared with the Boston-area at that time”

In his move to Rochester, he married his long-time friend and law school classmate Carol McKenna, also an attorney at Faraci Lange. Together they have two daughters: Claire, 17, and Juliette, 15.

At home and in the community

For 15 years Belanger was active on the board of directors of the National Kidney Foundation of Upstate New York, including service as president from 2004-2006. He has served on the working committee of Rochester’s Child, a fundraising arm of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, providing quality educational programs for young children. He is also on the board of directors of the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory, currently serving as president. He recently joined the Genesee Land Trust board.

In conjunction with his charitable commitments, Belanger has donated “gourmet dinners” to silent auctions for the Kidney Foundation, Make-a-Wish Foundation and other organizations. Law firm partner Raul Martinez has helped with some of these dinners and has donated his own dinner packages to charities.

Belanger plays golf most good-weather Saturdays, he plays basketball a couple mornings a week, but he tries to find time to fish year-round.

“Although it can be cold, there are places to fly fish all winter within 30 minutes of my home in Brighton,” he added.

In addition, Belanger ties all the flies he uses and, in fact, ties so many that he gives some away to his friends that fly fish.

Legal career

Plaintiff’s civil litigation is the focus of Belanger’s caseload, which puts him in state and federal court depending upon the case. He has lectured on a range of litigation topics at continuing legal education programs, including discussion of the threshold for serious injury in motor vehicle accidents, and liens and the right of subrogation in personal injury cases.

He is a member of the American Association for Justice, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and the Monroe County Bar Association.

His peers have selected Belanger for inclusion in Best Lawyers of America in the areas of personal injury and product liability law every year since 2008. He has also been selected as one of Upstate New York’s Super Lawyers in 2010, 2011 and 2013 in the area of personal injury litigation.

Fish stories

“The fishing is always good — but the catching can vary from day to day,” Belanger said. “Some days, I might catch more than a dozen fish in a few hours, other days I might catch nothing, but I still enjoy the solitude of the pursuit.”

In addition to Oatka Creek, Spring Brook and other local streams, Belanger fishes in New Hampshire and Vermont when time allows. Every year he and a friend from Massachusetts schedule a mid-June fishing trip somewhere in the New England states.

One of the biggest trout he reports catching was an 18-pound brown trout from a Lake Ontario tributary. Based on the photos provided, it’s a plausible fish story.