Female mate preference in a bower-holding cichlid, Cyathopharynx furcifer, was studied in Lake Tanganyika. Most males held territories with crater-shaped bowers in sand, but some males held territories without bowers. Territories were distributed adjacently and females visited them to spawn. After engaging in circling behaviour with the male, a female deposited eggs in the bower. Soon after spawning, the female picked the eggs up into her mouth and brooded them in places away from male territories. Female mate choice appeared to follow three steps: 1) females visited only bower-holding male territories, and more frequently visited territories of males that performed courtship displays at a higher frequency and had longer pelvic fins; 2) females preferred to start circling with males having longer and more symmetrical pelvic fins; 3) females chose males with more symmetrical pelvic fins as their mates. Less than 7% of females that visited male territories spawned eggs in the bowers. In contrast to other bower-holding species, bower size did not correlate with male reproductive success in C. furcifer. Bowers may therefore be essential as spawning sites or may function as a species recognition character for females. Female choice may be dependent instead on males having long and symmetrical pelvic fins apparent during the circling behaviour carried out in the bowers.