I've fished and or handled at least 100 fly rods and I can tell you that with one exception I have never been able to locate craftsmanship flaws in any of the USA built rods that I have looked at. Winston, T&T, Sage, Scott, and St. Croix all make beautiful rods and without being EXTREMELY nit-picky you will be hard pressed to find craftsmanship flaws in their rods. The exception was a Scott A3 that I sent back for a new section; the ferrulle had ragged edges on it and they replaced the rod for no repair or shipping charge, absolutely free. That may have been nit-picky on my part, but I wasn't satisfied with that level of sloppiness on my American made rod.
Conversely now...I have seen everything from the good bad and ugly from imported rods. I've seen guides misaligned, errant thread wraps, ugly corks, glue and epoxy slopped everywhere up and down the blanks. I think that alot of this comes with price however. I've looked at the more high end imports such as the upper tier Redingtons, TFO's, Echo's etc., and they are usually fine. Echo especially makes finely finished rods.
I cannot speak with any authority on castability...Ill leave that to a seasoned caster or instructor; and parts...who knows these days where they all come from. The only mental not that I have ever made about parts is the cork handles....and I have never seen a bad Winston cork, every other mfg has some good and some bad corks.
It really does vary from mfg to mfg and from model to model. The very high end foriegn rods look just as good as the low to mid US stuff, but you are looking at similarly priced products at that point.
For some reason the imported rods look almost too sanitary. A few friends and I had a discussion about this and decided that if you wrap nothing but the third section of 9', 5 weight rods for 18 hours straight, seven days a week over the course of thousands of rods with a brutal boss looking over your shoulder you get pretty efficient at it.
Not passionate but certainly efficient.
On the other hand it appears to me that the U.S. built rods are made by people who, first and foremost, know what they are used for but who also take an extreme amount of care in upholding and retaining not only their jobs but the tradition of building fine, quality built rods that are usually made in places near where trout live and roam free.
There is a sterility in import rods that just plain turns this consumer off.
That said, I doubt I will be able to afford or justify the purchase of a new, high end American rod now that I am the victim of the economy American business 'leaders' have set their course on. Being in thrift mode lately I would still rather buy a used American made rod than a new import.
If you would like to see best quality rods made in the U.S. and are you anywhere near Manchester, VT this summer, I suggest you check the schedule of the Orvis Rod Shop tours. Enlightening and enjoyable.
While some very fine American rods have aesthetic or craftsmanship glitches (finish spread off the thread wraps onto the blank is a no-no) and some Korean built rods look great, the real issue is PERFORMANCE. While there are very fine performing Korean rods; Hardy Zenith is at the zenith but TFO BVK and the excelent but discontinued Albright EXS come imediatly to mind, understand how they are designed: The Asian fabricator sends coded mix-and-match sections to the American/European rod designer who specifies the combinatrion that works toward his intend action and askes for further section selection samples untill the desired action is kind-of achieved. Maybe he heads overseas to visit the factory for the final prototype stage.
In Manchester, Teluride, Twin Bridges or Bainbridge Island (or wherever), FLY FISHERMEN discuss an idea, build a blank and wrap it up, get out on the pond with their buddies and beer and cast it. OK; a little more butt and softer in the tip, and another proto is rolled, wraped and cast...not that much softer in the tip and another gets built. After a while it gets excitingly close and the rod guys and some respected friends get prototypes to fish with. Some good ideas lead to additional tweaking and a new rod series is introduced. This creative angling-driven process is why rods from the US bulders are all but invariably more refined and sophisticated and more rewarding to fish than off-shore fabricated product. It is also part of why they cost much more but are worth it.
American made fly rods typically have better components, craftsmanship and cork. Not to mention more highly refined tapers and some would say more soul...
In Asia it's simply someones job to make fly rods, here it's a way of life...
Highly refined tapers is the key.
But look at the Japanese fly rod designers. They have very refined tapers in their rods too, but you don't see many over here in the U.S. There is some 'glass rods that make it over here that are highly prized by U.S. fly fishers. And I'm quite impressed with Loop rods too. Especially the Yellow Series.