Re: Best bang for the buck.
Can't speak to your backing question, but I do have some info you might be able to use. You can pick up like new TFO's on eBay very reasonably. Right now there's a TFO Professional Series 2 piece (now discontinued) 8 wt. I think the Pro Series is a solid choice, perhaps over the Healing Waters. I'm not familiar with the HW model, but looking at the profile and description it seems to be a slightly higher-priced version of the Professional Series.
No matter what you do, TAKE YOUR TIME making a decision. Get to a shop that will let you try out some rods if you can; but please, if you use this service, you should buy your rod from the shop that's helping you (Sounds obvious, but some people don't realize that a retail shop doesn't make money if you don't buy anything!). TFO's are the same price no matter where you buy, so if you're want a new rod, you don't need to shop around for the best price.
If you want used, eBay is the way to go.
I have a TFO TiCrx 9 foot 8 weight. I like it ok, but it seems a bit heavy - or unbalanced in the hand. I like the Pro Series a lot. Good feel and well balanced, and a real deal at about half what the TiCrx costs.
One down side for TFO - and for some a deal breaker - There's no rod tube included. Only a "sock". I've always wondered why they don't charge a few bucks more and throw in the tube. Best of luck to you and let us know how it's going!
---------- Post added at 10:41 PM ---------- Previous post was at 10:28 PM ----------
One more thing, consider the overall weight of the rod. Most will agree, lighter is better. TFO also offers a lifetime warranty on all their rods.
---------- Post added at 11:01 PM ---------- Previous post was at 10:41 PM ----------
For your reel get yourself an Allen Alpha. They're on sale right now for $144. This new company, Allen Fly Fishing (allenflyfishing.com), is gaining a reputation as a contender in the world of high-end fly rods and reels...at down-to-earth prices. I have 2 of his reels and they are the best reels I have ever used. All the bells and whistles of the brands that cost 3-4 times the money. He also sells fly tying hooks at a real bargain price. Recently added saltwater hooks to the arsenal. I just wish that Justin over at Allen Fly Fishing carried saltwater rods. Then you would have a one-stop shopping no brainer.