One of the only upsides to having a drought year out West is that we can backpack up to the high country a few weeks earlier than normal. And since it's hard work getting up there, don't shortchange your trip by bringing that broomstick of a six-weight or that noodley old fiberglass rod because "it won't matter if you break it." Get a two-weight. Backcountry brookies and cutties can still be selective, and even if they aren't, casting tiny flies to 10-inch trout just feels better with the appropriate rod—especially after you hook one.
Echo Carbon CB273
Go ahead, try to find a better-looking 4-piece fly rod for less than $200. You might not find one for less than $300. Designer Tim Rajeff is famous for doing a lot with a little, and the Carbon is no exception. It might not be enough rod to ever use the 20-inch "hero mark," but you could use it to measure two brookies.
G. Loomis Whisper Creek GLX FR962-3
With the word "whisper" in the name, this rod is just screaming to be carried in your teeth while you low crawl across a golf course at dawn. We're talking about the need for stealth here, and the Whisper Creek series is all about short, delicate, precise, possibly illegal presentations. Bonus: This eight-footer is already camo-colored.
Hardy Flyweight HRCL05
Manny Pacquiao is the best Flyweight ever. But this one could be second, assuming Floyd Mayweather isn't a flyfisher. If you're tired of trying to cast in tight quarters with three feet of rod you don't need, then buy one of these sweet six-footers. Traditional design meets modern performance meets UK cool.
Orvis Superfine Touch 602-3 or 802-4
You like sex? I mean flex? Then here's how to feel every turn, twist, and tug, from hook-set to in-the-net. The Superfine returns from Orvis' roots to pass the precision on to the next generation. A mid-priced rod that delivers the smallest flies on the lightest tippets, and has a name like a Manhattan massage parlor.
Redington CT 2764
Lifetime warranty on a $150 graphite rod? A hundred and fifty dollars? That's like a parking ticket in L.A. Or a steak dinner at Morton's. And this rod includes titanium oxide stripping guides and "A Grade" Portugese cork (keep away from backcountry marmots). For buyers on a budget: You just ran out of excuses.
Sage TXL-F 2710-4
Talk about ultra-light options. The two-weight TXL-F is the fifth lightest in the series, and there isn't a rod in the entire nine-rod, über-performance, ultra-marathoner collection that weighs even two ounces. At 7' 10" and four pieces, it's a perfect travel rod—in a backpack for brookies or a briefcase for golf-course bluegill.
Scott G2 772/4
Need to load a rod in a small space without a lot of line? Let the 7' 7" G-2 be your high-lakes Hunger Games weapon of choice. You'll be eating brookies from a frying pan while your fishing friends—wielding heavier, less accurate tools—are munching tea leaves and dandelion salad. And you'll feel every bit of the battle.
St. Croix Imperial I602.2
Between the burgundy finish (Go Vasser!), and the rosewood reel-seat insert (remember Rosewood from Beverly Hills Cop? That guy was funny), you'll have a hard time convincing people that this rod cost less than $200. The two-piece can be limiting, but this sexy little six-footer remains one of flyfishing's best bargains.
If the problem is a splashy presentation, then let Winston's 7' 9" LT help you solve it. The only five-piece in this collection makes it the best choice for frequent "business travelers" (as far as the IRS is concerned). Soft tips keep you from snapping off that 6X, and though you'll have to special order it, it's worth it.