Re: thinking to venture to the ultralight rod category
I think you will really enjoy a 1wt on small streams and I think the idea of the TFO Finesse is a good option. They occasionally pop up on Ebay in your price range. I have a Sage TXL 1wt that I love but I only bought it because I found a smoking deal a couple years ago. It's a bit long at 7'10" for some really small streams but it's a blast to fish with.
The finesse can be had in either 6'9" 1 wt or 7'3" 2wt.