RE:The price performance balancing point
I definitely agree on the reel side; rods are a funny thing though. I have three rods, none of which retailed for over $300 and none of which I paid over $140 for (yes I am a bargain hunter). If I didn't know that there were better rods out there I could probably be satisfied with these rods for ever. But, then I fished a couple of "sweeter" rods with friends or guides and realized that i can get greater performance out of some these rods, that happen to cost closer to $500. With a lifetime guarantee, buying an expensive rod is not a bad deal if you amortize the cost over the life of the rod--the trick is finding one that you really love AFTER you have settled into a certain casting style that won't dramatically alter too much.
If I had the chance to cast 20 different rods in a day, and found one that I really loved and that fit my personally style and clearly stood out compared to the rest, I'd have no problem paying top dollar for it. I think the reality is that most people don't get to do this though, and will just naturally adjust their casting style to what ever rod they end up with.
In the end, i think the best deal is what ever rod makes you happy, performs well in most conditions, has a good guarantee, and doesn't constatnly make you wish you had a nicer one--be it $140 or $540... For instance, I have a medium fast, mid flex 10 wt. that is simply the most verstile rod I have ever fished--it throws any sized fly in almost any condition, and still bends enough on a 4 lb schoolie to make catching them fun, but can handle 20lbers. I paid $140 for it and I'll never get rid of it.
Unfortunately for me, I have "outgrown" two of the other rods I have...but they have paid for themselves ten times over already and next time I'll know exactly what I want--and I have a bad feeling it's going to cost me. Now the trick is just trying everything that's out there!