If your thought process is anything like mine was, most will mistakenly try and enter into the hobby thinking you would like one fly rod that will pull mufti-function tasks. This train of thought will force one into purchasing a heavier weight rod than is really needed.
Ask yourself realistically what 95% of your fishing really entails, and purchase an appropriate rod that will fit that small nitch. This is not what I did, but looking back in time.... It's where I would have spent my money, if I had the chance to re-make that first purchase.
Circling back to a couple of your initial comments:
Originally Posted by caberguy
Admittedly I don't fish salt, and to be perfectly honest I paid more for my 8wt than any of my other rods (still only around $160), but I feel like I'd be willing to spend more for a higher end small rod than a big rod.
My rationale is that with a smaller rod I'm going more for accuracy and presentation, so I think of it more as a precision instrument.
Well, yes, that's sensible, up to a point. Spend your money where you're going to get the most enjoyment. If you love to ski and go every chance you get, but you only golf once every year or two on a company outing, spend your money of a great pair of skis and boots (or more than one pair!) and buy only an entry-level set of clubs from Dick's or borrow some clubs when you need them.
But are you really going to notice the difference between a pretty-good rod and the best in the market? If you're relatively new to the sport, it may not make sense to spend a lot on your first (or second) rod, just as a high-end pair of racing skis isn't going to be best for an intermediate recreational skier. Most of the advertising dollars go into the top-of-the-line models to create demand for them, but the reality is that the current state of carbon fiber technology is so good that there are many excellent, lightweight rods on the market today that are better than the top-of-the-line ones were 10 or 20 years ago, but priced at half their cost or less. You just don't need the last word in high-tech manufacturing to catch a bluegill or bass or trout, and you especially don't need to spend an extra $400 to do it if your own skills aren't able to take advantage of the subtle differences between a good-enough rod and a super-duper one. Those best-of-the-best rods are for people who have been fishing long enough that they really notice the difference and it matters to them. In lower line weights, yes, they are a little bit lighter than the plain-vanilla models, but the lighter weight isn't going to be noticed by most people in a day on the stream. (In saltwater rods, the weight difference is more dramatic and will matter to more people.)
My advice to a serious, novice-to-intermediate freshwater angler would be to get a good mid-priced 8 1/2 to 9 foot, 5 or 6 weight setup -- something from, say, Allen or Greys or TFO or Redington. I disagree with the advice above not to get an all-purpose rod. An 8 1/2 x 5 or a 9x6 without too stiff a tip really will cover most of the freshwater situations you are likely to encounter except perhaps throwing big deer hair bass bugs or double-hauling weighted Zonkers 70', or bushwhacking up tiny woodland creeks. (Some people use a 4 for most of their trout fishing, but I think a 5 or 6 is more versatile. It will do better at distance and in the wind, and with bigger flies like weighted streamers or surface poppers for panfish and bass.) Pick a decent one and it will give you all the presentation and accuracy you need, at least up to maybe 50' or so.
Eventually, when you have enough more experience under your belt to feel that it isn't doing the job for you any more in some aspect of your fishing, you will be able to supplement it with a more expensive rod designed for those specific applications (for example, a shorter, more delicate, 3 or 4 weight for spring creeks, or a longer, faster rod for big water). At that point you will enjoy it more, and given the rapid progress taking place in manufacturing technology, it may well be an even better model than anything that's available now. Or it may be the case by then that the best available today has become tomorrow's mid-price offering or closeout, and you have saved a few bucks by waiting. Or if you're already at that point, you may want to consider what specific features your current set-up lacks before deciding what your next purchase should be. It may be that the thing you need most isn't the ultra light weight of the most expensive models, but simply a different action or length or line weight.
Bigger rod for steelhead and salmon I'm thinking more like chuck and duck, swinging streamers and eggs, not too worried about presentation and accuracy. Thoughts.
But in steelhead and salmon fishing (and as others have pointed out, in saltwater flats fishing, which uses the same line weights) what often matters most is the ability to achieve both distance and accuracy. The other thing that really matters is just covering a lot of water with a lot of repetitive casting. It's in these kinds of situations where the lightness, power and accuracy of a better rod can really make a difference, even (or maybe especially) to a beginner. You don't want to go off for a week in the Canadian bush with a heavy, inexpensive rod and come back with carpal tunnel problems in your wrist. Trust, me, I did that once, and it wasn't worth the money I saved.
Moucheur, I think you have presented your comments in a manner that any novice anglers will understand and appreciate. GOOD SOUND ADVICE. Many articles written on the subject tend to be overly wordy and too technical, loosing ones interest.
I'm not really looking to pick anything up at the moment (unless I see a killer deal on a 2 or 3wt on the auction site... you know, maybe a little something smaller for the driftless), just reflecting on my thought process. Over the winter I picked up a Redington CT 9'0 4wt, a Redington CPX 9'6" 8wt and a used St Croix Pro Graphite 7'0 5wt that haven't seen the water yet, though one of them might today depending on where my wanderings take me.
It seems you are all set for the time being. In my view super-light line rods like #'s 0 - 3 are specialized rods for experienced anglers who have unique applications, I have never figured out what they are though. Until your casting and line handling skills evolve, it is hard to load and mend with these low mass line sizes. I believe line size, rod length and flex profile are a function of the environmental circumstances and fly size range to be fished rather than the size of the fish. If I am fishing a ledge rock, high country stream, over canopied with hemlock and bank choked by mountain laurel here is what I know: I will have to fish upstream into the chute pools, I will need a short rod (7 to 8 feet), I will make short casts so I will need the rod to load with feeling with little line out and I will have to present flies underneath overhanging branches. The fish are native brook trout, an 11" specimen would be spectacular, a minimum of 4-weight (I might go to a 5) would be necessary for short load purposes, I will need to form fairly tight loops too to deliver small terrestrials beneath the overhanging vegetation, my leader might need to be fine but short in length. Here is where a 7 to 7 1/2' 5-weight cane of glass rod would do but my 8'/#4 graphite will be fine, I'll just need to build the leader back.
I'm sure that was a fish sipping in the dark shadow beneath the leaning birch. His inconsistent rise suggests an ant or perhaps a beetle. I need to move more mid stream for back cast room to generate the 25' cast to drop my fly a couple of feet above the birch limbs with a hook to the right so the current will push my tippet into the shadow. OK, a little more line speed on this next cast with a more aggressive sweep to the left before the leader unfurls in the air. There, the beetle is in the zone now...he ate! a little line slides trough my fingers as the jewel streaks for the submerged ledge at the head of the pool but forget it little guy; you are coming to hand now. Very pretty with distinct vermiculation and cadmium red spots, see the faint parr markings? Back you go and watch what you eat next time. With my short 8 or 9' leader, I only had 16' of line out my tip top. This takes some line mass as does the in air hook cast; I couldn't do it with less than 4-weight line and 5 would be better. If I had a 2-weight would this 8" beauty have put up a bigger fight? Not if I have anything to do with it. He was going to be brought to hand and released in a minuet no matter what.
I have to agree with pegboy's approach. Spend the most, or what you're comfortable with, on the outfit you'll use the most. Your return on investment will be the greatest. While I have a decent 3 wt setup, it sees much less use than any of my 5 and 6 wts, and as much as I'd like to pick up a fine 2 wt or lighter, for the fish and types of water I frequent, it would see very little use. In my case, not a good investment for a high dollar setup. If I spent more time fishing small mountain streams for smaller fish, I'd probably feel differently.
It's really pretty simple. Put your $$$$ down on the rod that suits your chosen water. If you fish small water by all means pony up for a light weight rod.
But, don't let the big rods have no touch myth sway you as to their touch and presentation. In the hands of a good caster the heavy or light weight rod presentation can be feathery soft. Which ever you opt for practice, practice, practice. A great caster can make a crummy rod look good while a bad caster can make a good rod look crummy.
I never met a rod I couldn't cast. Maybe I couldn't cast them well, but each rod has that happy spot where they just work. If you slow down and feel what the rod is telling you, you can cast it. A lot of times high price doesn't = great rod.
Besides if you really have the bug you will never stop buying rods anyway. It's just part of the addiction.