Need Advice on 7-Weight Rod
Regarding the reels, you said the Sage has the name behind it, Orvis doesn't? Company has been around like 160 years and as good as anyone else out there. I would go for the Clearwater reel. Disclaimer, I am very biased but it is, in large part because their stuff is so good. Those Clearwater reels are bulletproof in both design and execution, that and Orvis just plain stands behind their stuff. Return it at any time, for any reason and they will take care of you. I guess the short answer is save the $50 and grab the Orvis reel.
You'll be able to cast bigger flies easier and longer into the day with something that has a shorter more dense head. That Airflo 40 plus in my other post is a good example. They also have a warranty on their lines, they will send you a replacement when you return a defective line. Cheers! JS
Agreed on the advice about a quality line as well. Whatever line you opt for, get one of the heavy front tapered lines to turn over those big nasty flies.
For the type of fishing you're going to be doing, I would recommend an Airflo 40 plus in whatever weight rod you end up with just to get you started.
Soon you'll find out you can't effectively catch fish near the surface with a floating line all the time, and you'll want to also get a sinking line to catch fish deeper in the water. (check out the streamer max line by Airflo)
All my warm water rods are 9'. I think that extra 6" would be helpful when highsticking nymphs for trout etc...
When it comes to SMB fishing, I run a 5-6 for small poppers and a 7-8 for streamers.
Check out Temple Fork Outfitters rods also, you can get a nice stick with out breaking the bank.
You're on the right track starting with a 7 or 8.