Welcome to the PT!! You're doing the right thing by asking questions right off the bat...keep 'em coming since you can learn a whole lot here!
Goldfish...you've got more guts than me...those guys can wreak havoc on plants...
I've never had much experience with goldfish, one thing you might want to look into is temperature compatability of some of the plants...Amazon swords and goldfish?
As far as growth, I've got a pretty tall 65g tank (24 deep), and I've had two swords break the surface (hence I got rid of them)...the key is light, co2 and fertilizers. Its quite possible that the plants you have right now aren't getting enough food?
As far as reaching down into the tank...well you got yourself into that mess
Maybe a stepladder? The big plastic gripping forceps you mention may help, but I know that will be difficult.
How is the setup overall? Are you feeding the plants gas and ferts? Plan on keeping the goldfish?
Who is it on this board that has goldfish?? I can't remember...he should chime in on this thread!