08-06-2008, 10:07 AM
Re: Howdy from the southern left coast.
Welcome to the board. Lot's of good folks here that can answer a lot of your questions. Your budget is a good one, and I think you'll find a ton of very good choices for quality gear.
You may want to ask for recommendations in the General Discussion forum for the lots of feedback. (It has the most traffic.) If 10 different people respond you'll likely get 20 different recommendations, but that's probably more a reflection of the wide variety of choices of the good stuff out there than it is a debate about the one "right" choice.
As a generality, look into the warranties offered by different mfgs. Lifetime, or replacement for nominal cost ($25 dollars) is the best way to go. In that price range, some offer them some don't. Most important for rods, reels less so. Some rods also come with metal tubes, some don't (figure an additional $25 or so for one that doesn't). If you air travel or plan to backpack, a 4 pc is the way to go.
There are intro books that are pretty good-- LL Bean, Orvis etc. Any one of them will help get your head around the lingo, gear techniques etc. Should be available in a local library, or you can buy one for short money online.
Think seriously about buying from a fly shop rather than a big box store. They'll often throw in lessons, let you try different rods with different actions and line combinations, and be a resource to answer questions down the road. The downside is that they may have a smaller selection of different brands, but prices will generally be about the same, and the budget you're working with there a lot of really good choices. They may also have rental gear that could be up for sale for a deep discount. I'm sure there are a lot of good shops out your way. Bob Marriotts in the LA area might be worth a look if you're anywhere near there.
There have also been quite a few recent threads with links to knots you'll need, casting vids on you tube and other online resources that are great for beginners.
Welcome to the board and the sport.