Anglers don't have to be experts to catch crappie at Badin Lake during March. But most days they'll need to be tolerant of cold and wind.

Malcolm Martin from Denton proved that during a blustery Saturday trip last March. To defeat the freezing breeze, he wore insulated coveralls and covered his head with a wool cap.

Most days Martin fishes at High Rock near his home. This trip he fished at Badin with Dustin Clontz from Albemarle. They caught a bunch of tasty panfish, but Martin landed the best crappie that trip.

To find, catch and land their fish they kept things simple and easy; they used live minnows under slip corks. Where crappies (or "crop-pees" as the Yankees say or sac-au-laits as the Cajuns call 'em) are caught, a slip cork, split shot and minnow is the time-honored technique.

Clontz and Martin rig a slip cork by tying a piece of rubber band around the line at the right depth. After they cast their minnows, the line runs through the cork and stops at the rubber band. That way the bait dangles in the right part of the water column.

They determine the correct distance by studying the depth-finder on the boat. And that's perhaps the trickiest part of crappie fishing during early spring - knowing the right depth to dunk minnows.

"On this trip we caught all our crappie with live minnows about 12-feet down," Martin said. "In my opinion that's the best way to catch crappie here during March."

Other anglers have their own opinions about how to catch early spring crappie here. Most of them favor some sort of trolling or tight-line technique to put slabs in the boat. Better anglers like to test their skills at local tournaments.

Steve Gentry from Winston-Salem only fishes at Badin during crappie tournaments. He uses a center-console boat rigged with rod-holders at the gunwales. His boat looks more suitable for stripers than crappie, but that's fine with Gentry because he targets larger slabs.

This windy March Saturday, he hooked several crappie in the 2-pound range.

"I caught about 40 fish but only kept six of the best ones," he said. "All I use are jigs and minnows on tight lines. I caught the largest one just after 10 a.m. in about 20 feet of water. This is a good time of the year to catch nice crappie from this lake."

Better anglers at Badin Lake know to fish early and deep for crappie.

Kernersville angler Randy Bowen started fishing crappie tournaments at Badin five years ago. He learned to catch enough fish and take home some spare change at most events. March is a time of change for crappie anglers, he said.

"During the first part of March I will fish from 10- to 25-feet down," he said. "It all depends on the weather. When it turns warm and stays that way, crappie will move shallow to spawn. I'll jig with minnows around brush piles in 6 feet of water by the end of the month."

Once crappie move shallow, anglers must still be ready for changes.

Anglers make a great mistake if they fish skinny water all the time, no matter how warm the weather becomes.

"During the spawn, crappie will not stay in shallow water all the time," Bowen said. "They'll move back and forth from shallow to deep. You have to follow them."

Bowen uses several 12- to 16-foot poles rigged with light lines to follow crappie at different areas of the lake. Depending upon conditions he'll troll with jigs behind the bait or sit still and fish straight under the boat.

Watch the depth-finder, he said. Use heavy enough sinkers to drop baits to the desired depth, but no more. Crappie can shy away from heavy lines and sinkers.

Anglers fish hard for Badin Lake crappie every year. Local tackle shops keep their minnow dipping nets wet through March and especially during weekends. Fish during the week and share the lake with the retired guys who spend many days on the water.

"You can catch crappie in 2 feet of water when they start spawning, if you can get to them," Bowen said. "Right after the spawn the crappie move back deep. That usually happens by May when the water temperature gets to 60 degrees."

Bowen likes to fish a lot of lakes for crappie. He rates Badin at the top, although High Rock used to be his favorite. During the summer of 2002, High Rock endured a severe drought, and the lake dropped by more than 22 feet.

"Right now I think the Badin produces better crappie than High Rock," he said. "That drought and low water at High Rock in 2002 really messed up the crappie for a while, although I think the crappie at High Rock are starting to recover. In a year or two the crappie fishing there should be better than ever."

Bowen used to fish the Crappie USA circuit with his friend, Tom Sprouse, from Advance. Sprouse started fishing for crappie at Badin about 20 years ago.

He likes to fish in the current.

"Go up the river to catch crappie from Badin Lake in early March," he said.

Sprouse rigs up to a dozen 16-foot poles around the boat. He likes to tip blue-and-chartreuse jigs with live minnows, then troll them 12- to 18-feet deep. When fishing alone, he only puts eight or nine poles, which is all he can handle.

Like most crappie anglers, Sprouse plants the rods in metal holders spaced around the boat. Such holders will hold rods in place yet still allow anglers to grab rods quickly when they get strikes.

A day of crappie fishing involves watching and waiting.

Scenery at Badin lake makes the trip worthwhile even if the fishing is slow. Much of the lake borders the Uwharrie National Forest with rolling hills, covered with lush forests. Beneath the boat anglers find deep and clear water compared to other lakes in the area.

"Slow trolling with tight lines works well at this time of year," he said. "I catch crappie the same way when they move shallow around brush. Fish get spooky in shallow water. I use long poles to keep the boat away from the fish."

Sprouse fishes through the winter at Badin. He considers it the best crappie lake on the Yadkin chain.

"Right now Badin may be the best lake for crappie on the Yadkin chain," he said.

Over time, Sprouse learned how to catch crappie at Badin Lake year round. But March presents a special challenge.

"In March I target stumps and rocks in deep water," he said. "Look for anything that gives fish a break from the current. When Alcoa generates power, there's a good current on the upper part of Badin. I catch more fish with a faster current because my lines run straight."

Sprouse runs his line through the long and limber crappie poles. He uses light line and the lightest possible sinkers. Most tight-line anglers watch for any movement that could indicate a strike. The long, limber poles also serve as excellent strike indicators.

"There is no way to miss it when a fish takes the bait," he said. "Most of the pole will be in the water when a fish hits."

Sometimes Sprouse gets surprised when he picks up a pole. Instead of a crappie, he may find something heavier has devoured a minnow.

"I often catch largemouth bass with the crappie rigs," he said. "Use live minnows and you might catch anything at Badin."

At Badin, anything could also include lively white bass or gut-wrenching blue catfish. Expect lively fights when reeling in larger fish with a crappie pole.

Sprouse fishes the same way all year except during the summer. By June he trolls a little faster. Even then, he likes to run the trolling motor at less than 2 miles-per-hour. It takes experience to determine the right speed.

Concord's Rick Eudy started learning how to catch crappie at Badin Lake last year. He won back to back tournaments at the lake during February and March by fishing swifter water at the upper part of the lake.

"Since I was new to the lake I started by fishing up the river," he said. "All I fish for is crappie."

He likes to troll blue and yellow jigs using 6-pound line. For best results he uses 1 1/6-ounce jigs, then adds 1/16-ounce bullet weights in front of the lures.

"I need the extra weight to get the jigs deep enough," he said.

It takes extra patience to figure out how deep to fish here. Depth-finders can mark 100-foot holes in Badin Lake when the water is high.

Eudy starts deep early in the year then works shallow.

"Last February I caught crappie in 18 feet of water," he said. "During the first tournament in March, I caught them 12-feet deep to win. By then the water temperature is about 45 degrees. Later the crappie will move shallow as the water warms up.

"In early March I start catching females that are already full of eggs. They start going on the beds by the end of March."

One way to tell if crappies are on the beds is to watch for the bank fishermen. They park beside the highway, then hike to the lake with fishing rods and buckets.

On good days, they return to their cars with heavy buckets full of tasty slabs for the table. And they don't have to worry about a boat motor conking out or the price of rising gasoline.