Over the years I have owned and casted a number of great rods, but the 8′ 6″ Ross Essence FC has always been my go-to 5 weight. The rod works well in a variety of different fishing situations and styles, from tossing small dries to chucking medium sized streamers, fishing large waters to small creeks, and used in pursuit of everything from blue gills to largemouth bass.
The FC is an exceptional beginner’s rod; priced under $200 so you won’t have to take out a loan in order to purchase it, the medium-fast action is very forgiving on those less than perfect casts and throws the line out when you do get a perfect cast with the ability to get a forty foot cast.
It loads nicely for short quick casts and very accurate for close tight presentations under bushes and around tree lines. Also it lays the fly down softly without spooking wary fish that may be around. It’s super sensitive and has a great feel when you get hook into a fish. When friends ask me why I don’t use a higher end rod, I just reply “This rod has everything I want! Sensitivity, accuracy, and power, I just love the feel of it!”
If I was to do it all over again I would probably go with the 9 foot model, at times when the wind picks up long cast can be difficult but manageable, I believe the 9 footer would handle the wind a lot better but may make fishing small creeks more frustrating. My recommendation would be to think about what situations you would be fishing in the most and that will help narrow your focus.