Re: Longer rod troubles
The Air Cell is not SA's best line by a long ways. If you get another line, try the Mastery series of lines. The Air Cell is a good enough line for you to cast more than 15 to 20 feet.
If you have a 8' 6" rod and you are using a 7 1/2' leader, you only have about 15' of fly line out side the tip. I am still of the opinion you are not using enough fly line to load the rod tip. You need to pull out 25' of fly line and do some pick-ups and lay-downs. This will help you get your back cast timing down. Remember when you do a pick-up, you have to have the fly moving before you start you cast. Don't try to pick up the line until all slack is out of the line. Get rid of the weighted bugger and see how you do.
If you really want to learn to cast well, you need a good video or tape.