Thanks for all the advice and discussion!
I'm very near St Louis, MO in Belleville, IL. I became keenly interested in fly fishing after canoeing 36 miles of the North Fork of the White River in southern MO in June. Beautiful river that showed less recreational pressure than any of the other Ozark rivers I've canoed. I saw a big trout holding behind a rock, and I knew then that I had to come back and catch him. The vegetarians on the trip even said they'd try some fresh trout next time
Research told me that sections of the NF are red and blue ribbon trout areas, and the outfitter told me their Rainbow population has been self-sustaining since the 1960's.
I fished the White a decade ago with my dad, using eggs, but I like tricking fish with man-made stuff. He's in TX now, so he sent me his reel, fly box, and a couple other odds and ends to get me started. He's restoring his old bamboo rod, but you know how those projects can take a long time, so I grabbed a 6wt Hobbs Creek from bass pro.
After reading a few comments here last evening, I went out to the yard. Here are my findings:
1) I could tell the difference in feel between my super-cheap line and his Cortland 333. I suddenly started 'cracking the whip' again with the 333 for some reason. I was also able to get a straighter line forward in the grass for some reason. That being said, performance difference was minimal.
2) When I stretched my line out to clean it, I took my caliper to it to make sure it was installed properly on the reel, and found the WF section where it should be (it was unmarked and coiled in its baggie when I got it)
3) I experimented with the wrist a bit. I'd seen different approaches to the wrist in youtube clips, so I used mine as a "hinge" of sorts at the ends of casting strokes. It seemed to improve my forard casts' "stretching out" a bit, but landed my backcast in the grass.
4) For the reason cited in #3, I've been "pushing" the rod forward and back to keep the line in the air. This is very tiring, and I know I don't need to muscle the rod like that.
So it really sounds like pro instruction is in order.
And yes, I'm fairly strapped for cash, so spending it in the right manner is important. Hey, at least I can't try to throw money at the problem!