My suggestion, is going to come in way under budget, but I figure why not share it.
I absolutely love this rod, and consider it my nicest.
Gremlin Fishing Emerald Matrix Fly Rods
I have a 3wt, and could recommend this manufacturer. I really don't have anything to compare it too in the price range your considering, I also do not have any complaints with it.
I do like this rod more than my two TFO's (A Lefty Pro / and a Signature), that hit the bank account at a slightly steeper cost. To sum things up, I consider this rod a nice value per cost investment. For me, I consider this a nice rod. I personally do not need anymore performance than this little gem has to offer.
Its also brought in my largest flyrod fish to date without any hiccups, (Note: I don't have anything really big to brag about either, but that's a different story).
There is a misconception out there that may or may not be a common narrative. I've more than once heard that light weight rods, and the fisherman who use them overplay fish. I believe that there is some merit to this argument when fishing with other methods, but for us fly fisherman the tippet is usually the most limiting factor. A lighter weight rod is perfectly capable of protecting a same break strength tippet, than a heavier rod, if ones fighting style also gets adjusted.
This is why we all feel the need to have low inertial high dollar drags, (is it not?) If you got the reel to do the job, might as well let it perform the job it was engineered to accomplish! Just angle that rod right, adjust your style, and allow that tippet to max out its capabilities.
The way I see it, when it comes to fly fishing, its the tippet that really matters, not the weight rod we all choose to individually fish. Most guys who choose lighter weight leaders / tippets, also choose smaller flies, and pursue smaller fish, as the tippet is a critical piece in the presentation of a lighter offering.
---------- Post added at 05:09 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:20 PM ----------
Nick Ultralight fly fishing is confusing. I posted this chart on another board a few years ago. I will repost here, and hope it helps you out some.
It would be natural too assume 0, 00, 000, are lighter than 1wts. But from my findings I believe this is not true. These are proprietary measurements, that have been refined to a more precise detail outside of the precision offered from AFTMA.
***** Note: I'm sure maybe not everyone has come to the same numbers as me. This is my understanding, and would welcome any opinions / statistics that differ to my posted findings.*****
As I'm just trying to clarify, a misunderstanding I also had when first venturing into this same topic. (note: I very well might be wrong, but have not yet found information contradicting the stats I posted.) I would welcome other findings on this subject, so that my own knowledge could also become more accurate.
Anyways, I hope I may have helped, if nothing else I may have provided you with some topics of interest, and hopefully a relevant easy to read scale to help determine your next rod purchase.