The definition of bait, from the Yahoo! On-line dictionary, is “food, or other lure, placed on a hook or in a trap, and used in the taking of fish, birds, or other animals”, whereas the Merriam Webster’s dictionary’s entry refers to bait as “a decoy for attracting animals to capture” and “artificial bait used for catching fish”. Two dictionaries, two quite different meanings for the same word, so how do we know if a lure can legitimately called bait?
With both the Yahoo! Live, and the Merriam Webster’s definition of bait, a lure would be legitimately called bait, because it is “or other lure”, and is “artificial bait for catching fish”, or an artificial offering for the fish. There are other fishing terms that are met with the same ambiguity, like chum. Chum is either the act of pouring blood and other fish and animal debris over the side of the boat in order to attract fish to the boat’s location, and is also the fish, fish blood and other animal debris that is used to attract fish. One would be a noun, the other a verb.
As far as verb/noun differences go, the same can be said for bait, where you can bait someone into a trap (verb), or use artificial bait for fishing. But, all things considered, yes, a lure can be legitimately called bait. If it is used in the catching of fish, anything on the end of your fishing line would be called bait, from crayfish to corn kernels, from worms and minnows to split-shad lures and crank baits.
As another saying goes, “if we can’t agree, can we at least agree to disagree?” Or, if you prefer, “potato, potah-to, let’s call the whole thing off”. If the fish is biting whatever it is that is on the end of your fishing line, does it really matter whether you call it a lure or bait? Ask any fanatical trout, walleye, bass or other sport fish fisherman whether or not a lure can be legitimately called bait, they will most likely look at you with a slant to their neck and raised eyebrows, and ask you what you’ve been smoking.
Whether you have a Mepps #4 spinner, an 1/18th of an ounce Red Devil spoon, or a simple hook and a worm tied to the end of your fishing line, you are baiting the fish that are present into biting or swallowing your offerings. You did pay $8.99 for that split-minnow, chartreuse colored lure for some reason, right? So, you may as well tie it onto the end of your line and give it at least an hour’s worth of effort.
Can a lure be legitimately called bait? Does it really matter whether you call what you use to catch fish with bait or a lure, just as long as it catches some nice fish for supper? Call it all bait, and meet me at the dock at sunrise.