Rod: (why settle for anything less)
Rplxi 9x9 2-pc $525 (or 3-pc $580, 5-pc $600+ up to him) ;-)
Reel: (personal preferences apply)
Ross Canyon / Lamson LP4 / Orvis Battenkill LA / Lamson Velocity / Redington RS2 910 / SciAnglers SA2 89
Listed in the order by the reels he would most likely keep the longest before upgrading.
Whether he stays within or choosed to bump the budget will be up to him. I don't know the Bean or Cabela models so didn't recommend them although I know they offer some good solid deals.
He's not buying till the end of the month so if anyone finds a great deal the floor is still open. Thanks for the feedback.