I think a lot depends on your casting style. My pace is relatively moderate, and while I can definitely appreciate the superior performance of premium rods, I can't recall a single slow day of fishing where I decided the reason I didn't do better was because I had a sub-par outfit in my hands. I have a couple premium rods in my quiver, but the only way I was able to justify buying them was finding them via Craigslist and a sweet consignment deal at my local fly shop. They're a pleasure to fish, but my cheapies catch me just as many fish. For someone starting out, I highly recommend buying a Cabelas Three Forks or Wind River rod. The per-assembled outfits they sell in those lines are actually pretty decent fishing tools, but the reels that come with them are absolute pieces of shit. Even with that said, while I have endured several failures of those reels' function when stripping off line and while fighting fish, I have yet to lose a fish because of them. Mind you, these are trout outfits; NEVER fish salmon or steelhead with a crappy reel. Reels aside, those rods cast great (in my opinion), even if they are mass produced "overseas," and on sale, they go for about $30-$40. The outfits are usually under $100, tax included. I suppose what I would consider a solid starting outfit would be an inexpensive rod, matched with a "decent" reel (read that as "containing no plastic parts, handle excepted") and a good line. A floating, weight forward Cortland 444 is a classic, solid performer at a moderate price point. Ask about factory seconds, too. Every once in a while, you can find a great line for pennies on the dollar that way. You shouldn't have to spend over $175 to be "in the game," at least for trout, and realistically, you can get there for less than $100. When you get better and can appreciate the virtues of premium outfits, assuming you've got the money to spend, they start to become more sensible purchases. The main difference I notice when casting premium rods is that they tend to throw more line more easily, probably due to their faster actions and superbly-engineered tapers. They're nice, for sure, but they're much more a luxury than a necessity. 30 years into my hobby, I still fish mostly middle of the road stuff.