I'll have to update this once I settle on a standard for fly fishing - but I've got to get smart there first....
Anyway, over the years I've bought a huge amount of gear. Reels would break, rods would break and I would get frustrated. My initial mistake was sucumbing to the hard-eyed stare of the Basswife and going for the cheapest thing on the shelf. Holy malfunction! Seems like that rod/reel combo for 15 bucks would never really work just right and eventually dies a miserable death in the middle of a trip - either self induced as it ground itself to a miserable end of jammed gears or killed by me in reaction to a lost trophy... that one that got away. It's one thing to lose a fish because I screwed up, it's intolerable to lose a great fish because your reel jams.
Interestingly enough, I did not start out by going cheap. In 1975, when I graduated from college I bought a cheap car (Datsun 710) and spent the rest of my savings on fishing and camping gear. I still use the tent today and the reel I bought - a Garcia Mitchell 301 - works just fine. As I threw out yet another reel last year, I realized the error of my ways - cheap stuff is not cheap in the long run. After replacing key gear components over and over, I realized (as I stared at the 301) that I should apply the same standard to gear as I apply to tools. I learned the quality lesson years ago on my woodworking gear.
With that, I quickly settled on my standard for a rod and reel. For the rod, it was a no-brainer. The Shakespeare Ugly Stik had a hugely positive reputation for being indestructible. I saw a review in BASS magazine that gave it very high marks - and the price was not bad. Here's another review that I linked up.
The reel was another easy choice. With the solid heritage of the 301 and over 30 years of positive experience with it, I settled on the Garcia 308 for Bass and the 310 for trout. By buying a couple of them, I also got the spare spools for the line that make dealing with a birds nest on the stream a snap.
I've been using these models for about 2 years now. No problems, no issues, maximum flexibility. I wish I had swapped out my dog's breakfast of gear years ago.
With the standards, I can load up my spools with 10 and 12 pound line for Bass and 4 or 6 pound line for trout. Now, it's trivial to swap down to 4 pound when I head to the SNP for the little guys and stick with the 6 for the North Branch where monsters do lurk.
The Ugly Stik comes in ultralight, light, medium, etc actions - so I have the correct range of them as well. Since I believe a man can never have too many fishing rods or guns, I keep each set fully loaded - a reel for every rod. This really makes it nice in the canoe when I am after Bass - I can rig a system for plastics, another for crankbaits and a third for top water. After all, you don't catch any fish while you are tying on a new rig!
I'll figure this out quickly for my new fly stuff. While I did get the cheapest possible in my starter set, I do realize that I'll need to move up as soon as I can figure out what the best match is to my price point and minimal skill level.
Bottom Line: Get the best stuff you can afford. You will get years of use from it.