TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — An unlikely source of help arrived Friday in the search for a man still missing in Lake Travis.

People working with Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR) brought their specially-trained dogs to go onto the water to assist the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

Shawn Hohnstreiter, the chairman of TEXSAR, explained that the dogs’ noses can be powerful tools even in the middle of a deep lake.

Photo: Will Dupree/KXAN

“Our dogs work on water just the same as they do on land, that there’s still scent for them to work from,” Hohnstreiter said. “We just work as that comes to the surface and try to triangulate on that and base water currents on that.”

When they smell something distinct from the boats, the dogs are trained to alert their handlers with something like a bark or a behavior change.

Deputies plan to use the dogs’ alerts to help narrow their search area. Right now that area is vast because the missing man’s friends cannot remember exactly where he fell off their boat Monday night. No agency has released the man’s name yet.

“We’re going to do everything within our power to locate this young man,” Sgt. Greg Lawson with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office lake patrol said.

Deputies are looking mostly north of Starnes Island, where the water can be up to 150 feet deep. Searches using sonar this week also uncovered what may be an old orchard below the surface in this area, which could hinder the search.

Photo: Will Dupree/KXAN

“Anytime we’re searching and we’re in an area that has trees, that’s going to cause problem with our sonar for us to be able to see through it,” Sgt. Lawson said.

That’s where the TEXSAR dogs could prove especially useful because they’ve helped in similar situations in the past.

“We have recoveries over 100 foot deep that the dogs will still pick up scent,” Hohnstreiter said.

The search for the man did not conclude Friday, so deputies plan to resume it again Saturday morning.