As an angler, I consider myself the proverbial ‘weekend warrior’ and, while I feel that you should invest in more than an Ugly Stik combo (no offense to the venerable Ugly Stik, mind you); I don’t feel the need to spend a small fortune on rods or reels either. The reel is merely a winch to help you land your fish; the rod is the fulcrum and also helps transmit the vibration from subtle bites. With the advent of braid and fluorocarbon lines; as well as in rod technology, we weekend anglers do not have to break the bank when it comes to rod and reel and even line selection. I personally fish with spinning combos that cost me around $130 for the rod and reel, and roughly $10 in line cost (braid+fluorocarbon leader), and about the same for my baitcasting combos. At $130 or so, you get a good price point with regard to sensitivity; plus you can carry multiple rods in your boat (or kayak) to avoid retying to try a different lure.
There are a number of manufacturers–Abu Garcia, Shimano, and even St. Croix who make excellent rods under $100. I would also add TFO, but I don’t know about their new pricing structure that is about to be announced. Big Box chains like Gander Mountain, BPS, Dicks or Cabelas also have well used and reviewed rods in the sub-$100 category. I have used both Abu Garcia and Shimano rods and I rate the Shimano rods better for one major reason–the warranty. I can return the rod to where I bought it. With Abu Garcia, the shipping costs could be close to the cost of the rod when new; if you bought their sub-$50 rod. Plus, there have been quality issues that I’ve found with their rods reported in numerous forums; more than I feel comfortable with.
For reels; again you can find excellent spinning reels as well under $70 from Shimano, Pfluegar, Abu Garcia, and even the big-box store chains as well. Baitcasting reels from the same manufacturers can be found in the $50-80 range as well and will serve the weekend angler for several seasons with appropriate maintenance.
I support using my local tackle stores whenever I can; and I know that mine can order what I want. For me, my choices are as follows.
Spinning: Size 30 Abu Garcia Orra S reels, spooled with 30lb Hi Seas Yellow Braid and a fluorocarbon leader. The rods are Shimano Sellus and are ‘technique specific’ although I didn’t buy them for that. I use a 6’8″ M-XF for finesse, a 7’1″ M-XF for flukes, senko and related weightless plastics, and a 7’2′ MH-F for small cranks, suspending jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits.
Baitcasting: Abu Garcia Black Max reels, spooled with the same braid and using 12lb Yozuri Hybrid leader, matching the line diameter by the mono equivalent. The Rods are also Shimano Sellus rods and I have a 7′ M-F for lipless and shallow crank baits, and frogs and a 7′ MH-F for spinnerbaits/buzzbaits and deeper diving cranks (below 6′), suspending jerkbaits longer than 3.5″ and some larger plastics for use in the lilly pads and cover. Again, these are ‘technique specific’ rods, but I don’t specifically use them by their badge.
None of my combos cost me over $130 and they serve me well. Don’t break the bank to enjoy fishing–if you’re not a tournament angler on the circuit, you don’t need $1,000 combos to enjoy this hobby and catch fish.