Bud, a GREAT TOPIC here. Tks for starting it. There should be lots of great information share on this topic.
Good Category: There's numerous Abu Garcia, Lew's, H20 Express combos out there for less than $100.00 dollars. These would be some great Starter setup for the beginning angler. You can purchase these at Walmart, Academy and Bass Pro Shops.
Better Category: Abu Garcia, Lew's, Browning, Quantum, Shimano all have excellent choices of combo's that can be purchased. These reels are a better quality than the Starter Reels and there's more choices in Rods in all weights and lengths. These can be found at Academy,Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Best Category: Any brand of Reel that you enjoy fishing with. For the rod I would say have a custom rod made to your liking.
When I first started out bass fishing I fished with Daiwa's, Shimano's and Abu Garcia's reels. Most of the rods I used were Eagle Claw, Daiwa's and Shimano's made. As I became more involved with bass fishing and got into tournament fishing I upgraded my equipment. Based on my mentors recommendations I chose Abu Garcia as my reels of choice. My rods of choice (-) my (2) Lee Smith Custom (MH) & (H) Action Rods are Bass Pro Shop Extreme 7ft Casting rods in Medium Action, Med Hvy Action and Heavy Action.
I presently have numerous Abu Garcia Reels > Revo S; Revo SX's, Revo STX, ABU Garcia Orra 2 SX's and Abu Garcia Black Max Low Profile baitcasters. I have setups that I use only for spinnerbaits, buzz baits, top water, flipping and pitching, crankbaiting, fishing soft plastics, jigging spoons and shaky head fishing.
I don't buy combo's anymore. What I do is buy the reel I want and a specific rod. My (2) Lee Smith Custom Rods (MH) and (H) action were built to only flip and pitch with. I matched them up with ABU Garcia STX Low Profile Bait Casting Reels.
There are LOTS of great products out there for you to choose from. I mentioned the stores I've shopped at mostly but there are some GREAT DEALS to be had from our Sponsors here at UltimateBass also.