Re: How important is rod/reel balance?
After Ards' initial response, I took his advice and read through the other threads discussing balance - and didn't come back to this thread (that I started) until now.
First, I want to say thanks for all the responses! I've just become really serious about fly fishing this year, though I've been doing it for maybe 4 years. I started with a rod that I've really never been able to cast very well. When I decided the time had come to invest some real cash in what turned out to be three new rods, I decided I'd better get an education before I spent the money. The responses and information have been very helpful.
After taking everything in and experimenting with different rods/reels, I basically agree with everyone here. Unless you go to extremes like in Dans' example above, balance is usually determined in a few ounces of weight and seems to make little if any difference in how a rod performs. I suspect lighter is always better in that it is less tiring to fish all day and lighter likely gives a better feel of the line. Neither of these things have anything to do with balance though, but rather the overall weight of your rig. The supposed balance point changes too depending on how much line you have in the air leaving the tip increasingly more "heavy". Again, it seems weight only matters in how well you can feel your line, feel your rod load, and feel the fish.
I really appreciate all the input.