Understanding the drift dynamics of pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) early life intervals is critical to evaluating damming effects on sturgeons. However, studying dispersal behavior is difficult in rivers. In stream tanks, we studied the effect of velocity on dispersal and holding ability, estimated swimming height, and used the data to estimate drift distance of pallid sturgeon. Dispersal was by days 0–10 embryos until fish developed into larvae on day 11 after 200 CTU (daily cumulative temperature units). Embryos in tanks with a mean channel velocity of 30.1 cm s−1 and a side eddy could not hold position in the eddy, so current controlled dispersal. Late embryos (days 6–10 fish) dispersed more passes per hour than early embryos (days 0–5 fish) and held position in side eddies when channel velocities were 17.3 cm s−1 or 21.1 cm s−1. Day and night swim-up and drift by embryos is an effective adaptation to disperse fish in channel flow and return fish from side eddies to the channel. Early embryos swam <0.50 cm above the bottom and late embryos swam higher (mean, 90 cm). A passive drift model using a near bottom velocity of 32 cm s−1 predicted that embryos dispersing for 11 days in channel flow would travel 304 km. Embryos spawned at Fort Peck Dam, Missouri River, must stop dispersal in <330 km or enter Lake Sakakawea, where survival is likely poor. The model suggests there may be a mismatch between embryo dispersal distance and location of suitable rearing habitat. This situation may be common for pallid sturgeon in dammed rivers.