I've also gone from 9 to 8 to 7 wt, albeit for fishing the hard-pressured fish on Andros. I think it makes a noticable difference, and I'be learned to control the 7wt in heavier winds with time. One thing to remember: I fish without a stripping basket, letting a loop trail behind me. It takes considerably more effort to break that loop loose of surface tension with a 7 wt than with a heavier rod. In practice this means an extra false cast, which can be disconcerting.
If you stick with a 9 wt, try a 16+' leader.