Rods are a very personal thing. They are a tool and like all tools, price for performance is important to everyone. Sometimes you pay for the name. I had 7 1/2' ugly sticks years ago and they performed very well for me for the fishing I was doing. They're still in the garage. As my fishing interests migrated to Salmon/Steelhead, so did my tools. As you know, you can spend a ton of money gearing up for a single species. I've tried many Mfg's rods, with some outperfoming others. Don't be fooled though, all rods can and will break. I've made several trips to Loomis with broken rods, have sent in others to St. Croix. I currently have one Lamiglass that needs to be returned. Many of the rods Joes carries, they will just give you a new one if it breaks. But some Mfgs require you to send them in for evaluation of failure. Liftime garranties are nice, but still limited. You'll pay $20-$50 for replacements, but that is far better than the original price. What you'll find with the "high end" rods is ease of use. They are typically lighter which is nice if your days involve a lot of casting. If you're putting it in a rod older and casting every once in a while, heavier rods should not matter. We're only talking ounces. As long as you have a rod to match the target species, any of the names will get the job done. And you can land bigger fish with lighter rods and lines if you have a good reel with a good drag system.
My personal preferences these days:
Salmon I use Lamiglass. They build a nice product for our big fish here. I mostly bobber fish for Salmon and use several of their models rated for 12-25# line in 8 1/2' length.
Steelhead I use St Croix Avid series rods in 9' and 9 1/2' rated 4-12# line. My favorite is the 9', as it has just a little more backbone. They are all pretty light for some of the hot fish, but that is part of the challenge.
I don't fish for Sturgeon so I won't go into it.
I have used many of the reel mfgs out there these days. I have matched all of my spinning rods (which I primarily use) with Shimano Symetre reels. The 2500 model on my Steelhead rods and the 4000 model on my Salmon rods. These are not the most expensive reel, but they sure are nice. They make for a very nice balanced setup(key to comfortable fishing) and they have a great drag system. I have used my sons Stradic and am not sure they are that much better to justify the higher price. There is a noticable jump in performance between the Sedona and Symtre however.
Hope this helps some.
Life Member Since '94,
1st Member of the NAFC Western Fishers,
Proud User of St. Croix, Lamiglass, Shimano, Fishcraft, Mercury,
Fishing With the Boys Guide Service